Russia, Arab League Work to Prevent Referral of Syrian Crisis to Security Council

Article Summary
The new year has brought significant changes to the composition of the UN Security Council, which ought to work in the favor of those countries wishing to see the Council intervene in the Syrian crisis. However Russia’s move to pressure the Syrian regime into accepting Arab League observers and implementing some reforms is designed to block the internationalization of the crisis, observes Rosana Bou Mounsef.

At this early stage in the year, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has [already] witnessed a number of developments which have given some [parties] reason for optimism regarding the potential referral of the Syrian crisis to the UNSC. These include the conclusion of Lebanon's temporary membership term, which lasted for two years, as well as the end of Brazil’s membership term. In fact, when there had been talk of the referral of the Syrian crisis to the UNSC [last year], the [positions] of these two countries were complicated and intransigent. They have been replaced by Morocco and Guatemala, whose positions [on the Syrian crisis] are much closer to those held by the West.

According to some, other factors give [further] grounds for optimism, namely the end of Russia's presidency of the Council in December and its [the beginning of] South Africa’s [presidential term]. In fact, during its term [as UNSC President], Russia had presented a new draft resolution on Syria to the Security Council. This draft was to a certain extent welcomed by Western countries, which nevertheless expressed a desire to discuss and amend it. According to the West, the regime and the opposition should not have been treated as equals.

But despite these new developments, diplomatic sources say that, despite the ongoing efforts of some Western countries, the Syrian crisis is unlikely to be discussed at the UNSC - at least for now. In fact, Russia appears to have put forward its draft resolution merely so as to pressure the Syrian regime to accept the Arab initiative and apply its terms in order to prevent the internationalization [of the crisis].  [Internationalization would have] embarrassed [Syria’s] allies - especially Russia and China - given that the [Syrian] regime had refrained from responding to any initiative.

Consequently, Russia has not yet shown any willingness to submit this draft for discussion among members of the Security Council. This complicates the transmission of the Syrian crisis to the UNSC, especially considering that Russia still feels, along with some Arab states, that the Arab initiative has not yet exhausted all its chances and that it has gaps that need to be bridged prior to the referral of the crisis to the UNSC. According to them, the League should take responsibility for the inexperience and non-proficiency of its observers, just as the Syrian regime should take responsibility for not responding to the initiative. The contradiction in the Arab position enables Russia to give the regime the benefit of the doubt - until further notice.

In light of a number of factors, different views emerge. Some say that the European Union (EU) is upset about the fact that the US is not equally enthusiastic about referring the Syrian crisis to the UNSC, and that there is no strong cooperation and coordination between the US and the EU at the UNSC over this matter, due to the concerns raised at the UN by the US regarding other continents. Regardless, in the media the Americans are voicing a strong desire to refer the Syrian crisis to the UNSC and impose harsh sanctions against the regime, forcing it to put an end to repression.

Some say that there is no strong US position on this matter. On the one hand, this could indicate that Washington is finding it difficult or even impossible to achieve its goals. On the other, it may demonstrate that the US is taking a host of relevant considerations into account, including - according to some sources - a desire to know who will replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - not formally, but in reality; as well as the composition of the ministerial cabinet and the office of Prime Minister.  However these matters have yet to be decided, and the Syrian opposition is not helping Western countries [to resolve these questions]. Moreover, these sources indicate, at their own discretion, that no direct contacts have so far been made between Washington and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria; rather only indirect contacts were [established]. The sources add that Washington is unwilling to relive the experience of Iraq in Syria for many reasons, including the difficulty of recovering from the fragmentation of the army and the collapse of [state] institutions.

Others say that there is an attempt to win the Syrian regime through the Russian and Chinese support of the reforms it says it wants to start implementing this year, as stated in the letter it sent to the UNSC after the two blasts carried out in Damascus on December 23. It said that “whenever new laws and serious reformist measures are taken in Syria, there is an escalation [of regional tensions] and pressure begins to increase, be it on the media or the political level." Moreover, the Syrian regime declared its intention to "complete the promising reform program currently underway."

This claim - which Russia is deeply willing to be convinced of - infers that the observer mission and the Arab initiative will yield increasingly positive results. In fact, the two belligerent parties could benefit from this equation. For its part, the opposition could benefit given the availability of conditions that could further weaken the system as well as the emergence of alternatives. The system, however, can benefit from this equation given the additional opportunity it will be given to prove its ability to incorporate the reforms it has committed to implementing during the elections this coming February.

Within this context, the resolutions of the Arab foreign ministers following the UNSC consultation session to be held tomorrow, Tuesday [10 January 2012], seem like part of the pressure being placed on the Syrian regime to respond to the [Arab League] initiative - unless new factors suddenly emerge and manage to alter this equation.

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