Dead on Arrival?
Turkey and Syria face off at the border while both sides reject Kofi Annan’s new peace initiative
The new peace initiative from the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, has already run into trouble, receiving criticism from both the Syrian government and the rebels, and discord amongst world powers. The initiative was announced on Tuesday, but faces huge obstacles that make its success a doubtful prospect. Even if there is agreement on the international level, there are few signs that it will be accepted in Syria.
The former UN Secretary-General has organized a peace conference in the Swiss city of Geneva tomorrow. Representatives from the US, UK, France, Russia, China (the permanent members of the UN Security Council), and Turkey, Qatar and Kuwait will attend the meeting. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been excluded, at the insistence of Russia and the western countries respectively.
According to a copy obtained by the news agency AFP, Mr. Annan’s new proposal calls for the formation of a transitional government, with members from both the existing Syrian government and the opposition, though it would “exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation”.
This may or may not include the incumbent president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, according to AFP’s diplomatic sources, but could equally apply to some members of the opposition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated yesterday that Russia would not support the plan if it required the removal of President Assad from power to proceed, and reiterated Russia’s opposition to external involvement in Syria. Other officials, including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Britain’s William Hague, are understood to have told Mr. Annan that the meeting should not go ahead unless it will be possible to reach an agreement.
Mr. Lavrov is meeting with American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton today in the Russian city of St. Petersburg to try to iron out their differences, leading some observers to speculate that a ‘backroom deal’ between the US and Russia over the fate of President Assad and his government may be in the offing.
Meanwhile, in Syria, both President Assad and his opponents have expressed opposition ranging from skepticism to outright rejection.
In a televised interview with an Iranian state channel on Thursday night, President Assad warned that his government would not accept any outside interference in Syria, even from states that have been supportive of his government. He also said that it was still his policy to try to crush the uprising, stating that: “The responsibility of the Syrian government is to protect all of our residents. You have a responsibility to annihilate terrorists in any corner of the country”.
Several factions within the opposition, on the other hand, have stated that any plan for a transitional government must include the removal of President Assad, his family, and his immediate supporters from power. A member of the Syrian National Council’s executive body told Al Jazeera “if it does not clearly state that Assad must step down, it will be unacceptable to us”.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also rejected the move, stating that it was “an attempt to circumvent the revolution of the Syrian people”.
As the fighting continues in Syria, there are signs that the violence is spreading, and creeping closer and closer to the capital. Two bombs exploded in Damascus on Thursday, close to the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, though no fatalities have been reported.
The UN’s refugee agency has also doubled its estimate of Syrian’s displaced by fighting this year to 185,000, and has stated that it will require almost $200m to assist those fleeing the violence.
There are also signs of rising tensions on the Syrian-Turkish border, following the downing of a Turkish air force jet by Syrian air defenses earlier this week. Turkey is reportedly reinforcing its military presence on the border, including beefing-up its own air defenses. A senior officer of the opposition’s Free Syrian Army claimed that the Syrian military is massing tanks near the northern city of Aleppo, though these could be used in action against rebellious districts within Syria.