- 14th August (morning)
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSES TO THE EVENTS OF THE PAST WEEK:
TURKEY ON SYRIA
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to discuss whether there could be a joint military operation between the US and Turkey to either create a no-fly zone or to create safe havens in the north of Syria. One of the reasons the Turks would want safe havens inside northern Syria as opposed to a mere temporary no-fly zone would be so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the PKK or its Syrian “PYD” offshoot attacking the Turkish from inside northern Syria.
The Turkish government has a history of not being lenient when it strikes a target that it believes is threatening its sovereignty. Some Turks including the current Prime Minister Erdogan fear what could become the ‘Kurdish Spring’. The uprising in Syria has led to Bashar al-Assad withdrawing many troops from the Hasakah region in the northeast of Syria to concentrate on battles in Aleppo and Damascus. This region in the Syrian northeast is part of what many Kurds call “western Kurdistan”. Now that Assad has vacated this area the Kurdish people would like to turn it into a semi autonomous region like the north of Iraq. Turkey fears that the 20% of Turkey’s population who are Kurdish will be influenced by the Kurds in northern Syria.
Turkey is terrified by the explosive new alliance between the “PKK Syria” a.k.a. the “PYD” and the Barzani sponsored KNC (Kurdish National Council). The two erstwhile enemies have forged an alliance under the watchful eye of the older Barzani (President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdish Region of Iraq rather that the Kurdish region’s premier Nechirvan Barzani) and carved up Kurdish Syria. A new armed Peshmerga battalion has been formed in the process. This creates a united form of governance for all Kurdish Syria that is in close alliance with Kurdish Iraq. The difficulty for Turkey, which might like to intervene, is that to do so could mean taking on Assad’s Syria, the PKK within Turkey, Kurdish Syria and Kurdish Iraq – by no means a walk in the park.
For Prime Minister Erdogan the fall of the Assad government would be of great benefit to Turkey. In the last day or two however, Erdogan’s rhetoric has deteriorated into sectarian invective (perhaps because of his immense frustration at not knowing what to do). Opposition politician Ribal al-Assad has said that Erdogan should not fan the flames of a sectarian war in Syria. He said that Turkey’s policy has backfired and that they should be a neutral and honest broker. There are divisions within Turkey on how best to deal with the Assad government and the issue of the Kurds. Erdogan recently compared the opposition party in Turkey to the ruling Ba’ath party in Syria. This angered the leader of the Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Kilicdaroglu responded saying that “the current state of Turkey is depriving me of sleep”. More important than this seemingly modest criticism, respected Turkish veteran journalist Cengiz Candar has slammed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for it Kurdish policy saying that the countdown to the fall of Erdogan and the AKP has begun and whether the landing will be soft or not is yet to be seen. Seasoned Turkish journalist Metin Munir is another critic of the government’s Syria policy. Munir claims that for the benefit of the Turkish people the government should have remained neutral on Syria. He says that backing Assad would have been dreadful as the Assad dynasty under Hafez and Bashar supported the sworn enemy of the Turkish people the PKK (Both Assads let the PKK under the name PYD operate in northern Syria). On the other hand, he says, supporting the opposition has led to a power vacuum in the northern regions where the PYD is now trying to assert its dominance. Munir points out that the goal of the PKK / PYD is to have an autonomous Kurdistan which not only encompasses Northern Iraq and Northern Syria but also includes much of Southeast Turkey.
There are some reports that Turkey is supplying the FSA with stinger anti-aircraft missiles but they are not from the most reliable of sources.
We include the following comment which we think relevant from an NCF member from Syria’s Christian Arab community. His comment is unedited (i.e. the following is the exact text of his e-mail as typed by him):
“This morning I was at the fruit market…chatting to a friend [Turkish Kurdi Alawi]... asked me about my family in Syria…
“I was extremely upset that my brother family are moving to the USA and Ukraine to a peaceful area…sad situation for me.
“They are uncertain about the security situation for their children.
“He was in Turkey two weeks ago, in eastern area, his birthplace.
“He said that the Syrian situation has created the biggest debate in Turkey, criticising Ordogan for his mess with the Syrian situation,
“It is good for our Kurdish future state they say.
“The PKK has put their flags on many Syrian villages on the Syrian /Turkish border ... the Turkish government were sick for a few days before taking them down…..you cannot do anything Mr. Ordogan they said….every week few attacks on Turkish army including Izmir this week.
“The wind is blowing our way, he said ... the biggest debate and movement taking place in eastern Turkey…our Kurdish state looks nearer.
“The Turkish newspaper is full of debate about the Syrian crisis.
“They say; plan B is an Alawi state on the coastal part of Syria includes the Christians and other secular groups, democratic, open economy,
“Good relation with Israel and the western world, I will be the first to open a factory in this prosperous area. Leave the other enjoy own society.
“People will live in a homogenise society,
“The area needs a new outlook and a new people and states emerging…the Kurdish people are secular people, we pray with music,
“Fundamentalism invading the area is not suitable for our society.”
USA ON SYRIA
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, and they agreed to examine the possibility of implementing a no fly zone. She emphasised the need for careful planning and analysis prior to any potential action. The two countries will form a joint working group to cooperate on the issue. A no fly zone, or the creation of safe havens, might lead to an intervention similar to the one undertaken in Libya in 2011. Clinton said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “red line” for the world, thus hinting at a strong response if this happens. However, the US have slightly cooled talks on a no-fly zone today, with Leon Panetta (Defence Secretary) saying it's not on the "front burner".
The US is planning new sanctions in an attempt to put greater pressure on Bashar Al-Assad’s government. They will complement existing sanctions, which already target individual members of the governments of Syria and Iran. Clinton said that she hoped such sanctions would “expose and disrupt” Syrian links with Iran and Hizbollah. But the move is largely symbolic as the USA has few additional sanctions of substance it can impose having already made its sanctions as draconian as it can manage.
The US will also increase “humanitarian aid” to the thousands of Syrian refugees that have fled into neighbouring countries. Some argue that American support for the rebels in Syria is not based on humanitarian concern but is strategic and that overthrowing the Assad government, Iran’s only Arab ally, would be a natural first step in overthrowing Iran’s Islamic government and “isolating, then eliminating, Israel’s bitter Lebanese foe, Hezbollah.”
Others argue that the US might face serious problems if they step up their involvement in Syria. Increasing assistance towards the rebels would in turn increase expectations from the rebels as to US support, making them more and more dependent on US help.
THE UNITED NATIONS
On 8 August 2012, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, held talks with the Arab League in the hope of agreeing on a new Syrian peace envoy to replace Kofi Annan, whose resignation was submitted on 2 August 2012. The UN Secretary General himself is reported to doubt whether a new envoy could achieve anything, but wishes to go through the motions so that the door to peace talks can be kept open. His spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said: "The secretary general is in close, almost daily, contact with the secretary general of the League of Arab States on the work that needs to go into the selection of a successor to Kofi Annan."
Russia expressed regret over Annan’s resignation, as did China, South Africa and Pakistan. But the Americans see little point in replacing Annan, preferring instead to increase backing for anti-Assad rebels.
U.N. officials say that Annan's replacement must be someone of similar stature. Among the names circulating at the United Nations as possible replacements for Annan are two Spaniards - former Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. A Malaysian candidate has also been named as has Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's. However, Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is said to be the frontrunner to replace Kofi Annan.
Lakhdar Brahimi, 78, the former Algerian Foreign Minister, served as a U.N. special envoy in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, in Afghanistan both before and after the end of Taliban rule and in South Africa as it emerged from the apartheid era. Brahimi told Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby that his condition for accepting the job was that he receives "strong support" from the Security Council, which has been sharply divided on Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. It was not immediately clear what Brahimi meant by "strong support," though diplomats commented on Brahimi’s unfortunate lack of enthusiasm for what he seems to regard as a poisoned chalice and said he was understandably reluctant to take a job that it would be extremely difficult to succeed at. Brahimi has a “consistent track record of creating the illusion of negotiations where none exists, while the real contestation continues undisturbed on the battlefield”.
On 10 August 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted a report to the Security Council with proposals on next steps for the monitoring mission in Syria. The Secretary General again stated the obvious: "In spite of the best efforts of The UN mission in Syria to support the parties in the effort to de-escalate the crisis, there is not a cessation of violence, and the basic human rights whose protection is at the core of the Annan Plan continue to be violated." His recommendation was straightforward: reconfigure the mission, as it is obsolete under its current structure. However in the report, Ban listed a number of unhelpful or unlikely options for “recalibration”, including either the full withdrawal of the mission, or reinforcing it by sending in additional soldiers, presumably in order to make it easier to close down.
While Security Council diplomats generally agree on the need for restructuring the UN mission, they remain divided on whether or not to use a mandate renewal as part of a tactic to put more pressure on Assad. On 7 August 2012, Russia circulated a draft resolution that would renew a monitoring mission along the lines of Ban's recommended reconfiguration. But diplomats from France, the UK, Germany, and the United States say this doesn't go far enough. They adopt an extreme position and want a renewal of the mandate to be conditional on Assad's full compliance with Kofi Annan's six-point plan and the Geneva agreements, including halting the use of heavy weapons, withdrawing from populated areas, allowing for humanitarian access, and facilitating a Syrian-led political transition. They argue that a renewal would be meaningless without the threat of biting international sanctions.
Meanwhile, on 13 August 2012, the head of the United Nations monitors in Syria, General Babacar Gaye, said that violence was intensifying across the country, blaming both President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebel fighters for ignoring the plight of civilians. The mandate for the U.N. monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April ceasefire that never took hold, expires a few days from now on August 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around. However, as General Gaye said, “the remaining 100 observers, along with our civilian colleagues, will operate till the last minute.”
Because of the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria in recent weeks as fighting spread to Damascus and Aleppo, United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos promised to go to Syria to discuss ways of increasing emergency aid to civilians. During her three-day trip, Amos is also planning to visit Lebanon to meet Syrian families who have fled the violence and hold talks on providing support to the growing number of refugees.
The UK has stepped up their funding of the rebels with a further £5m in what is euphemistically described as non lethal equipment. The equipment for the rebels will include medical supplies and radio and satellite equipment. The UK claims the equipment will not include any weapons. The extra £5m is in addition to £27.5m to the “unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists and civilians”.
RUSSIAN ON SYRIA
Putin and Cameron had a meeting over Syria before watching the Olympic judo on 2 August 2012. Downing Street had low expectations, making clear in advance of their meeting that the issue was a tough one and substantive progress was unlikely. "We both want to see an end to (the) conflict and a stable Syria," Cameron insisted after their 45-minute meeting. Putin said the UK and Russia saw "eye-to-eye" on aspects of the situation and would work together to find a viable solution.
The only practical consequence of the meeting was to agree that foreign secretary, William Hague, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, were to meet. Nothing appears to have changed since Cameron and Putin last met in Mexico in June. At the end of that meeting the UK prime minister insisted (erroneously as it turned out) that Putin "does not want Assad remaining in charge in Syria".
Russia is sending three “large landing ships” with 120 marines on board each to the Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus. A source in the Russian General Staff said the three ships would be joined by three other ships from the Russian Navy's Black Sea and Northern Sea fleets.
Russia's Defense Ministry later issued a statement denying the second batch of warships would actually go into the Tartus base but left open the possibility they would do so if they remained at sea longer than expected. "The military vessels' entry ... to Tartus is not planned”, the ministry statement said, adding that the ships would have every right to enter Tartus if the length of their voyage increased and they were ordered to carry out new tasks.
A delegation of Syrian ministers was sent by President Bashar al-Assad to Moscow on 2 August 2012 to request help to alleviate the effects of sanctions on war-torn Syria. The delegation reached an agreement with Russia, under which ‘Syria will export its crude oil to Russia in exchange for refined oil products, which Damascus sorely needs to keep its economy and military running.’
The resignation of the special envoy for Syrian settlement Kofi Annan “will obviously play in the hands of those who seek to let off the leash for the use of force in that country”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said. “Kofi Annan is a honest international mediator but there are those who seek to have him off in order to free their hands for force actions. It is evident,” Gatilov wrote in his Twitter microblog.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he regretted Kofi Annan’s resignation. He added however he hoped the international community would continue its efforts to settle the situation in Syria: "It's really a great pity, Mr. Annan is a dignified person and a brilliant diplomat and that's why I really feel sorry for this." "Still I hope the international community will continue efforts towards stopping violence in Syria," he said adding that the situation in that country is "tragic”
The UN General Assembly on 3 August 2012 approved the Saudi-drafted resolution, which expressed "grave concern" at the escalation of violence in Syria and condemned the Security Council for its action, with 133 votes in favor, 12 against and 31 abstentions. As expected, Russia was among the 12 countries that opposed the resolution in the assembly, where no country has a veto but all decisions are non-binding. Others that voted against it included China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, and Cuba. India abstained.
Moscow's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters the resolution was one-sided and supported the armed opposition. He said his country regretted the resolution which "only aggravates confrontational approaches to the resolution of the Syrian crisis, doing nothing to facilitate dialogue between the parties".
Meanwhile, on 8 August 2012 a Syrian rebel group calling itself the "Hawks Special Operations Battalion ... a division of the Military Leadership of Damascus City and Province" claimed responsibility for killing of a Russian general working as an adviser to Syria's ministry of defense in an operation in the western Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.
In a video statement Lieutenant Majid Sayyed Ahmad of the Hawks battalion gave the name of the general as Vladimir Petrovich Kochyev, a copy of the general's ID, and his photo. Among the documents the video showed was a letter by the Syrian chief of staff, Fahed al-Freij, who is also the defense minister, asking the head of the Russian military advisers in Syria to extend Kochyev's term as adviser.
However, on the same day Vladimir Petrovich Kuzheyev met reporters at the Defense Ministry in Moscow to deny reports that he had been killed: "I want to confirm that I am alive and well. I am in good health and I'm living in Moscow." The video, sent by rebels, showed what they said was a copy of the general's ID, as issued by the Syrian military, and named him as Vladimir Petrovich Kochyev. The difference between that spelling and the name of the general who appeared in Moscow may be due to the way the Cyrillic letters were transcribed. Kuzheyev did not make clear whether he had been in Syria. But Interfax news agency quoted a security source as saying he had been there advising the Syrian Defence Ministry before being transferred to the reserves in 2010. It said he now lived in Moscow.
More recently, on 9 August 2012, Iran held a meeting in Tehran to discuss the conflict in Syria. Among countries included in the talks were China and Russia, as well as Algeria, India, Pakistan, Venezuela, Tajikistan and six members of the Arab League. Kuwait and Lebanon officially declined to attend the meeting. Russia was represented by its ambassador to Iran, Levan Dzhagaryan.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a veiled warning about China's rising influence in Russia's Far East, saying it was essential to defend the area against "excessive expansion by bordering states". His comments, which were said to be the strongest on the subject yet, underlined the Kremlin's suspicions that a steady influx of Chinese migrants may ultimately pose a threat to Russian hegemony in the remote and sparsely populated territories of Siberia and the Far East.
The statement seems to indicate a deterioration in relations between Russia and China, which enjoy strong diplomatic and trade relations and have joined forces in the United Nations Security Council to block proposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
On 8 August 2012, Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy called for urgent foreign intervention in Syria after speaking with opposition Syrian National Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda.
Sarkozy also suggested France take action as it did in Libya, where Sarkozy triggered an international coalition to back rebel fighters who ultimately killed Moammar Gadhafi.
However, senior officials are saying the two countries are very different, and that Mr. Sarkozy is being impulsive.
Sarkozy’s message was designed to increase pressure on French President Francois Hollande to engage more openly with Syrian opposition groups. Hollande has made a point of limiting his involvement in foreign affairs. While Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has had frequent contact with a number of exiled Syrian opposition leaders, Hollande only met Sieda, and that was briefly during a ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Paris.
In a gesture to help, French President Francois Hollande said that surgeons and medics would be deployed to help care for Syrian refugees. On 9 August 2012 a team of 25 French military doctors set up a mobile hospital to treat refugees fleeing Syria.
IRAN ON SYRIA
On Saturday (4th August), 48 Iranians who were going to Damascus to visit a Shia shrine were captured by Syrian rebels. Iran maintained that these were pilgrims whereas the Syrian rebels said they were Iranian Revolutionary Guards on a field reconnaissance mission. The rebels have shown what they claim is evidence that the men have military identities. Iran’s foreign ministry says that the pilgrims included retired Revolutionary Guards and soldiers. However, they maintain that they did not have any military role while in Syria, “After some time in which pilgrims from Iran were not being dispatched to Syria... we took steps to send retired forces from various organisations.”
On Monday (6th August), three of the Iranians died, allegedly during government shelling, with the rebels warning they would kill the rest of the men if the shelling did not stop within an hour. The subsequent fate of the hostages is unknown. Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, held the US and its Middle Eastern allies responsible for the three Iranian deaths. He blamed Western politicians for their “warmongering policies and the deaths of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and now Syria.”
Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, visited Turkey on Tuesday (7th) for talks which focussed on the Iranian hostages (as well as trying to smooth over the current tense relationship between Turkey and Iran). Iran has also asked Qatar for help regarding the hostage situation. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad. He reaffirmed Iran’s support for Syria and said that, “Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way.” The ‘axis of resistance’ comprises Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. He also said Syria was “capable of thwarting the foreign conspiracies.” He followed this by visiting Beirut for talks with Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah. Some analysts believe these diplomatic missions are intended to consolidate Iran’s influence in the region should Assad’s government fall.
The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has travelled to Saudi Arabia. He has been invited by the Saudi King because Saudi is hosting a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This is a rare visit; the last time it happened was in 2007. Ahmadinejad said he hoped this meeting could be used to reconcile “damaging” internal disputes between Muslim nations. It looks as if he will be disappointed: In today’s news, members of the Islamic Co-operation Organisation (OIC) have called on Syria to be suspended. Only Iran and Algeria rejected this recommendation.
Meanwhile, at the end of the month, Iran is scheduled to host a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), with Syria on the agenda. The group contains 120 countries not directly allied to either the US or Russia. Israel has meanwhile expressed its disquiet at the possibility of Ban Ki-moon’s attendance at the NAM meeting. This comes at a time when Iran is increasingly active diplomatically on the Syrian issue. This week saw an Iranian conference on Syria which was attended by 27 countries: Russia, China, Belarus, Mauritania, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Benin, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Oman, Venezuela, Tajikistan, India, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Sudan, Jordan and Tunisia (as well as Palestine). The talks emphasised the need for dialogue to solve the crisis in Syria. The post conference Tehran statement urges a cessation of hostilities “by putting an end to any military assistance to armed groups” while “warning of the dangerous impacts of support for armed groups on regional peace and security.” Furthermore, it recognizes the importance of “establishing a contact group from among the participating countries aiming to end the violence and starting the inclusive dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.”