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The Arab League gives Assad time for reforms

Friday, March 30, 2012

Natalya Kovalenko

Photo: EPA  

Arab League leaders have rejected the possibility of foreign intervention in Syria. During an Arab League summit in Baghdad on Thursday, the participants called for an immediate halt to violence in Syria, resting responsibility for the country’s political future on the Syrian nation.

Although the situation remains tense in Baghdad with several blasts reported there during the summit, Arab leaders spoke peacefully. The Secretary-General of the Leagueof Arab States Nabil El Araby called for an immediate halt to violence, this is what the agenda of the meeting focused on. The participants did not demand President Bashar Assad`s resignation, neither did they call for showing support for the Syrian opposition. The Baghdad declaration insists that Syria should be united and stable, while the power should be transferred peacefully.

Only Tunisian acting President Moncef Marzouki believes that the Syrian regime is doomed. Other participants said they were ready to give Assad some time to carry out reforms, says Vladimir Sotnikov, expert in Oriental studies at the Russian Center for International Security.

“Now that Kofi Annan`s mission seems to be a success, the Arab League leaders have reconsidered their positions on Syria. Mr. Annan had his peace plan approved by Russia, which is a permanent member of the UNSC, and now I think that the conflict will be settled under the jurisdiction of the UN. Annan is determined to achieve positive results. Probably, this won`t lead to a truce between the Assad regime and the rebels but will help us avoid the Libyan scenario there. Certainly, the Arab League cannot but take these changes into consideration.”

The Arab League summit backed Annan`s plan on the peaceful settlement in Syria, which had been previously approved by the UNSC and the League itself. This is a six-point plan, which urges Syrians “to commit to stopping the fighting and urgently achieving an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country”, to press the government to stop “troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in population centers”, as well as to allow humanitarian supplies and foreign journalists into the country”.

Not all Arab states, however, accept the UN-Arab League plan. The leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia – Bashar Assad`s major opponents- did not attend the Baghdad summit. They both welcome a military intervention in Syria. This proves that the League lacks agreement on the issue, says Yevgeny Satanovsky, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.

“Not all League nations are ready to treat Assad the way they had been treating Muammar Gaddafi whose 40 years in power allowed him to worsen the relations with all the neighbors. Assad has not had any major conflicts with anybody. We should keep in mind that Iran, which remained neutral on Libya, has a great influence on Lebanon, Iraq, Mauritania and many other regimes, not to mention Algeria. All these countries do not want a conflict with Syria. Why should Algeria oppose Assad who has been fighting against those very people who had been attempting to topple the Algerian junta in the 1990s? If Algeria opposes the Syrian regime, it will be equaled to Assad by those who overthrow him.”

This time the Arab League summit participants decided to distance themselves from the Syrian conflict. “Now the situation in Syria is being controlled by Kofi Annan, and it is the UNSC that will be responsible for the outcome”, the League`s Secretary-General Nabil El Araby said. Damascus has not yet reacted to the Baghdad summit. Syria`s membership in the League was suspended last November, so neither Assad nor his envoys attended the meeting.