The Arab proposal to replicate the Yemeni scenario in Syria has gained the attention of several diplomatic sources, for several reasons:
First of all, the Arab states have refused to maintain the status quo, retreat from their position, or merely extend the [Arab League] Observer Mission, as all of these options would offer President Bashar al-Assad the opportunity to [maneuver] and improve his position. [Had Arab states maintained the status quo,] the Syrian President could have managed to limit the [observer] mission and cope with its [findings], while at the same time continuing the [military] campaign he announced in his last speech.
There is a real danger that Assad will succeed in this approach because of continued Russian and Chinese support [for his regime]. Consequently, the Arab states would be held responsible for offering him a chance to stay afloat while the death toll rises day by day. Arab leaders cannot tolerate such an eventuality, or the status quo of insecurity with no political solution on the horizon. They have taken a [firm] stand against the Syrian regime which they now find themselves unable to step away from, especially if they find themselves forced to revert to [an aggressive position] in the near future.
Therefore, the [Arab] states have formulated a detailed plan that is not so different from the propositions previously announced by the Syrian President. However, the plan retains one basic difference [from Assad’s proposals]: It exludes Assad from being present in any future transitional period - effectively deeming him part of the problem, not the solution. The plan stopped short of openly demanding the removal of the president, but would also not allow him to easily gain the upper hand during the transitional process.
Thus, no one - including the Syrians - believes in the credibility of this plan to organize a [transitional] period under the supervision of the Syrian President. It is believed that Assad would surely fail [to secure a future role in government] given that the plan would be implemented under Arab and international supervision.
There is an urgent need for such a plan; in recent weeks, the Syrian issue has become deadlocked, and none of the parties involved have been able to determine potential next steps.
The plan won the approval of [the Arab League], including Iraq, despite its different point of view on the [Syrian] issue. [Its support was important] given both Iraq’s strong support for the Syrian regime and the imminent end of the Qatari Presidency of the Arab League. [The Arab League Presidency] will next be transferred to Iraq, which means that the Observer Mission will be brought to a close.
In addition, the Arab plan does not directly target the Syrian regime as much as it offers a road map that the Syrian opposition has thus far been unable to come up with. This [lack of initiative] had left the opposition’s supporters and Arab and Western states that backed its demands confused. Therefore, as it has proven incapable of formulating a plan of its own that could muster the necessary support, the opposition should consider the Arab plan as an acceptable alternative, and one that could offer it an important umbrella.
A second important point: The Russians have been employing the term “the Yemeni scenario” when speaking about the Syrian crisis over the last two months. After Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was successfully removed from power, the Russians expressed their willingness to apply this strategy to the Syrian crisis, even inviting Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara to Moscow.
According to diplomatic sources, the visit did not take place because the Syrian leadership did not allow it. We are therefore left to question whether this embarrassed the Russians [leading them to strike it from the list of options], despite having previously supported it as an alternative to referring the issue to the UN Security Council.
The Russian position would have proven especially important had the Arabs failed to support [the Arab League proposal]. Their failure to agree on it would have deferred discussion to the international arena. Additionally, Russia has significant influence on the Syrian leadership. Russian support of such a plan would place the Syrians in a difficult position, especially given the small margins of maneuverability they have left. The Syrian’s might therefore find implementing this plan more advantageous than delaying it.
The Arab states have secretly been discussing this plan in an effort to convince the Syrian leadership to accept a gradual solution, by ensuring that Assad would remain in power to supervise the transition. [He would be allowed to remain in power] on the condition that the system [of governance] and the nature of [presidential] powers are altered. Alternatively, he could delegate his authority to the vice-president, who would organize a safe exit for him - similar to what happened with the Yemeni President.
Russia’s support will be critical at the UN Security Council once the Arab States transfer their road map to the council to get its support.
The proposal does not call for further sanctions or condemnation of the [Syrian] regime, and does not include a military intervention clause. It will therefore not pose a challenge to the Russians, especially because it does not conflict with what Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been calling for throughout his presidential campaign. The plan follows the prescriptions of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the need to safeguard Syria, find a peaceful means of exit for the Syrian president and an institutional transitional.
Moreover, Russia’s reaction [to the proposal] will be critical especially if Russian officials have to play a direct role in convincing the Syrian Regime to adhere to it. The regime-friendly Syrian media’s first reaction was one of emotional backlash, paying no heed to the Russian position. However it is important to note that the Syrian regime does indeed need a Russian umbrella to maintain its current position.
The next few days will shed some light on the [Arab League’s] surprise proposal and on the type of negotiations that will follow. So far, the early reactions have not given us a precise image of the shape of future events on the ground.