UPDATE: Syria and the Arab League have annoubnced an agreement designed to end the crisis in Syria, and the deal has been endorsed by the United Nations. Now the question is: Will the Syrian opposition talk to President Assad?
With rumblings on the right about the need for NATO to turn its sanguinary attention to Syria, it’s a good sign that Syria seems to have accepted an Arab League plan to resolve the crisis peacefully. As always, however, the devil is lurking in a thicket of details.
According to published reports, the Arab League put forward a plan “calling for the Syrian government to withdraw security forces from the streets, stop violence by pro-government forces against civilians, and begin talks with the Syrian opposition in Cairo.” So far, it isn’t clear if Syria has accepted the proposal in full, put forward a counterproposal, or is just feinting. Later today, in Cairo, the league is supposed to make an official announcement.
Among the sticking points: Syria isn’t happy about negotiating with the opposition outside the country—i.e., in Cairo—because that means the more militant opposition will be included. Left to its druthers, President Assad’s government would prefer to talk to the more docile opposition, especially the Damascus-based figures who’ve already expressed a willingness to talk about reforms. Others, including forces based in Turkey—and, apparently, increasingly backed by the Turkish government—are tilting toward armed insurrection.
Yesterday, I blogged about the possibility of a NATO intervention, including calls from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and from Senator John McCain about the need for a tougher, more interventionist approach. In that piece, I cited a denial from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO chief, who ruled out NATO intervention a la Libya. But now Rasmussen is qualifying his statement a little, opening a trap door by saying that what happened in Libya ought to be a warning to Assad: “I strongly condemn the crackdown on the civilian population in Syria. What has happened in Libya sends a clear signal. You cannot neglect the will of the people.”
Inside Syria itself, there’s still fighting going on, and the crackdown continues.
But Russia has commented favorably on the Arab League plan, and China seems to back it, too. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reports on some possible Syrian modifications to the Arab League plan:
It has been reported that Damascus has made some amendments to the plan and incorporated its own considerations into it, including mainly the need of a complete halt of media campaign launched against Syria coupled with strict measures to stop funding of alleged terrorists and weapon smuggling across its borders.
Syria has also agreed to conduct dialogue with the opposition and make quick and radical reforms. However, the contentious issue is still the location to hold the proposed dialogue, as Damascus is showing unwavering determination to convene it in Damascus in presence of international observers from China, Russia, Brazil and India.