As Annan Works for Ceasefire, Friends of Syria Plan for Worst

Article Summary
As Kofi Annan searches for a political solution and the Friends of Syria plan their next conference, certain things are clear, says Emile Khoury. Russia holds the key to any solution, which necessitates an agreement with Damascus on a substitute for Assad. Also, the next “Friends” conference may consider arranging safe passage for humanitarian aid and arming the Free Syrian Army.

Will Kofi Annan’s plan lead to a ceasefire in Syria? This question remains unanswered. Will it lead to the establishment of a new political system for the country and the holding of free and fair, pluralistic elections, the results of which will be determined by whether the transition of power goes smoothly and calmly? What is to be done if Annan fails to implement this plan? What will be the next step, and will it matter whether it is based on an Arab or international consensus?

In fact, Russia holds the key to the solution in Syria. And it is Russia who can compel the current regime to implement Annan’s plan. Its success will also depend on whether the Syrian regime responds to Russia’s demands, which are the establishment of a new system and rule in Syria that it can be as comfortable with as it is with the current regime. Russia fears that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will reach power in Syria and that this would embolden radical Islamist groups within the Russian Federation and stir security troubles. It is not enough for the Brotherhood to release a statement reassuring those concerned about its policies. Were it to reach power, it may establish religious dictatorial rule in place of the former military or totalitarian regimes. The MB has also lost credibility by breaching its pledges in Egypt. The group nominated one of its members to the presidency after having long promised not to do so, and is monopolizing the drafting process for a new Egyptian constitution. This latest issue might spark enough controversy to provoke a second revolution. All of this, in addition to the suspicious moves made by Islamic fundamentalists in Tunisia and Libya. So how will the United States, the European Union and the Arab states respond to Russia’s position?

Diplomatic sources have revealed that Kofi Annan’s plan is the last chance for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and that it has everyone’s approval and support, however superficial it may be. But this opportunity will not be available forever. Russia is doing what it can to keep the cards in its hand, and consequently disapproves of President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation without prior agreement on his substitute. Without such an agreement, chaos may prevail in Syria — just like it did and still does in Iraq — which may only come to end with the division of Syria into sectarian and ethnic statelets. This would be a boon to Israel, and this worries Russia.

Thus, the next "Friends of Syria" conference set to be held in Paris [later in April] may — should the implementation of Annan’s plan fail — issue a decision to set up safe passage for the entry of humanitarian aid to Syrian people in need, establish buffer zones on the Turkish-Syrian border and commission a body to distribute weapons to the “Free Syrian Army.” The goal is to distribute these weapons without allowing them to fall in the hands of Islamic fundamentalist groups — especially Al-Qaeda — or those of terrorist elements. Such a decision may encourage further defections from the regular Syrian army, especially now that salaries will be allocated for the defectors. It would be possible to effectively confront the regular army, take conclusive action and put before President Assad two options: stepping down to pull Syria out of the bloody swamp, or take responsibility for the devastating internal war that will likely take place in Syria. The duration of this war and the scale of the human and material damage to be inflicted on the country have yet to be seen.

The same sources posit that, opposite Russia’s insistance on the defense of the Syrian regime unless an acceptable substitute regime is agreed upon, the United States and its allies hold a card of their own to play against Russia if Annan fails to implement his plan. This is the card of supporting the Syrian opposition, particularly the “Free Syrian Army," with money and equipment. This would force Russia to choose one of two options: either approve Assad’s resignation and allow the free Syrian people to choose their regime and rulers through fair parliamentary elections, or bear the consequences of an internal war that may only end with the division of Syria, and which may be a prelude to the division of multiple countries in the region.

While the Istanbul conference [April 3, 2012] recognized the Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the Paris conference may decide to arm the “Free Syrian Army." But it is necessary to wait for the results of Annan's efforts, and give him what time he will dedicate to finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which is in everyone’s best interest.  

Found in: un, syrian opposition, syrian national council, syrian crisis, syrian, russian support, muslim brotherhood, muslim, kofi annan, free syrian army

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