Merkel To Putin: “Take Assad to Russia”

The search for a solution to the Syrian crisis is following contradictory paths, writes Sami Kohen. While a recent international meeting in Geneva pushed for a “solution with Assad,” a path Russia supports, other meetings, including one organized by the Friends of Syria in Paris, pushed for Assad's ouster.

al-monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin address the media after talks in Berlin, June 1, 2012. Russia does not supply weapons to its long-standing ally Syria that could be used in a civil war, Putin said on Friday, responding to U.S. criticism of a "reprehensible" arms shipment to Damascus.  Photo by REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz.

Topics covered

syrian opposition, syrian crisis, syrian, putin, merkel, geneva conference, geneva, friends of syria, assad

Jul 9, 2012

Three recent meetings show that the search for a solution in Syria is following divergent — and even contradictory — paths. During the Geneva meeting, which Russia, China and Turkey attended, a decision was made to give priority to the establishment of a “transitional government” in Syria. Accordingly, opposition groups approved by [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad would be included in this “national unity” government. In other words, the Geneva accord revolved around a “solution with Assad,” a formula that is favored by Russia.

After the Geneva conference, Cairo hosted a meeting of Syrian opposition groups. A Turkish delegation was also in attendance to this meeting. The goal of the meeting was to unite the fragmented Syrian opposition, but it is not at all certain that such a unity can be preserved in a post-Assad era, even though they now all support the “solution without Assad” formula. This is why they are refusing to participate in a “transitional government,” as set out in the Geneva meeting.

Finally, other countries met in Paris to take part in another Friends of Syria conference. Turkey, which hosted the same group in Istanbul last April, is one of the driving engines behind this group. Representatives of over 80 countries that consider themselves as friends of the Syrian people — as opposed to friends of the regime in Damascus — reached a major decision in Istanbul by recognizing the opposition groups [particularly the Syrian National Council]  as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” The Istanbul gathering also promised material and political support to the resistance and opposition groups.

The Paris meeting illustrated the Friends’ desire to continue this support and launch new initiatives to achieve a “solution without Assad.” US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and many other Western and Arab speakers insisted that Assad must go. They also called on Russia to enable such a solution. French president Francois Hollande said that the Damascus regime couldn’t last for long and concluded: ”Assad’s fall is inevitable.”

This is true. Assad will be deposed one way or another. This is the ordained fate of dictators in countries where people rise. However, when this will happen is the real question.

As the Arab Spring spread throughout the region, there were those who believed that the Assad regime would be toppled as quickly as the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Policies formulated against Syria were based on this assumption, therefore having a nature of high risk
The people’s uprising in Syria has been ongoing for 16 months, and much blood has been spilled. However, Bashar is still there. Yes, he is under an increasing amount of pressure each day, and his status is being threatened by international reactions as well as by the defection of generals who were close to him. The armed resistance is spreading and is now even threatening security in Damascus.

But, despite all of these unfavorable conditions, one must admit that Assad is still standing and resisting. Of course, support by Russia, Iran and China play a big part in his survival.

How much longer will Russia, which doesn’t have the luxury of losing Syria, continue to support Assad? On the surface, Putin doesn’t appear to be ready to sacrifice the tyrant of Damascus. It is reported that when [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel recently told Putin to “take Assad to Russia,” Putin answered: “This must be a joke.”

Of course, the Russians know this is not a joke but they are not yet willing to change their attitude.

Meanwhile, Assad maintains his rule, encouraged by such support and ineffective meetings. In the end, Assad will be deposed, one way or another. But this won’t be quick or easy.

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