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Q&A with Christiane Amanpour: What’s next for diplomacy for Syria?
By Samuel Burke
What is the next step for diplomacy in Syria?
A meeting of the so called “Friends of Syria” in Paris, later this week. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has told me that more than 100 countries will be represented there. They want to ratchet up the pressure on Bashar al-Assad, hoping to impose even more sanctions on the regime. In addition, they hope to convince those countries which have yet to be involved to join in applying sanctions.
More pressure would be derived by compiling evidence of all human rights abuses, including torture, so that one day they may be used in a court of law against Assad. In the event that the ‘Annan Plan’ doesn’t work, Hague says they will seek a Chapter 7 Resolution at the United Nations, which would include more muscular sanctions with consequences.
Is the latest peace plan going to work?
Probably not. The Western nations, as well as Russia and China, have a different view of exactly what was agreed to. The West believes it achieved an agreement to a transitional governing body in Syria, which will inevitably mean that Assad has to step down. However, Russia is saying, ‘not so fast.’
So yet again, there are semantic and substantive arguments over the way forward, and how much and how hard to push Assad. The Russians want no part of regime change, and that remains a major sticking point. At the same time, the West does not want to intervene militarily, nor does it want to arm the opposition on the ground. So it looks like we’re still in the phase of talking, pressure and sanctions.
Is Syria turning into a sectarian conflict?
The opposition denies that it’s a sectarian conflict. But there are disturbing developments over the last several weeks. June has been the deadliest month in Syria’s protracted uprising, and there’s no doubt that more weapons are being delivered to the opposition.
There have been attacks on Christian churches and neighborhoods, as well as some attacks on Alawite neighborhoods. The opposition says this is a deliberate ploy by the Assad government to justify the need for his “stabilizing” leadership. According to the U.N., the lion’s share of the atrocities is being committed by the Assad regime.
Why hasn’t Assad fallen like Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak, Libya’s Gadhafi or Yemen’s Saleh?
Because Assad decided to dig in and there was no external pressure to cause him to step down. Also there is a segment of the population that really does worry that without Assad, Syria would simply split apart and become a violent, sectarian civil war. Also, the Alawites who surround Assad, are a minority sect, fearful of what might come after Assad. That is one compelling reason why many in the ruling hierarchy haven’t abandoned him.
What happens if Assad is no longer in place?
That’s the big question – which is why the West is so reluctant to intervene. They simply don’t know what might come afterward. This is also why some in Syria are scared, believing he’s the only one who can keep the country together. But the truth of the matter is if the West were willing to get to know and understand the opposition, they could help organize them and do what they’ve done in similar situations in the past. This is what’s been done in other parts of the world with dictatorial governments acting against the interest of the West and the U.S.
Merely to say “we don’t know what comes later” is to abandon responsibility. There are ways of identifying the opposition and enabling a post-regime government to take place. That’s what they say they’re doing in these “Friends of Syria” meetings, but you don’t’ really see any evidence of that. The thing to keep an eye on is if the number of Syrian defections picks up. If it does, that could cause the regime to implode.