Analysis: West tries modest steps to add pressure on Syria

WASHINGTON Wed Jun 8, 2011 7:15pm EDT

Related Topics

Related Interactive

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - While the United States and its allies want to raise pressure on Syria to end its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, there are few signs the West, let alone the Arab world, is ready for robust action that might make a difference.

Britain and France have floated a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and a senior diplomat said European Union nations were looking at a fresh round of sanctions targeting companies in the country.

No one, however, is contemplating military intervention along the lines of the 11-week bombing campaign against Libya ostensibly begun to protect civilians but which increasingly appears aimed at dislodging Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The prospect of Syria's violence escalating has prompted the flurry of diplomatic activity. But diplomats and analysts were uncertain at best whether a new Security Council resolution -- which contains no sanctions -- would change Syrian behavior.

"It may or may not," acknowledged U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, saying the resolution would "add to the mounting international condemnation" of Syria and help "build a broader coalition" to pressure Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad to change course.

But months of Western sanctions and international opprobrium have failed to persuade Assad to end state-sponsored violence and open talks with his opponents.

"I don't believe that the drive ... either at the U.N. or the EU is driven by conviction that this can have an influence on Syrian behavior. I don't think anyone believes that," said an Arab diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"No one is embarking on this with any great enthusiasm, but clearly they (the West) need to be seen as doing something because the situation is getting worse," he added.

REFUGEES HEAD TO TURKEY

Rights groups say over 1,100 civilians have been killed since March in protests against 41 years of Assad family rule.

Refugees have begun fleeing into Turkey, fearing a Syrian military assault on Jisr al-Shughour, a town near the Turkish border where Syria has vowed to "restore security" after a disputed incident in which 120 men are said to have died.

Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency said on Wednesday that 122 Syrians, including women and children, crossed into Turkey overnight.

Assad's government has accused armed bands of killing scores of its security forces in the town, while anti-Assad activists have said the violence involved fighting among Syrian soldiers.

Russia, a longtime ally and arms supplier to Syria, has been resistant to any Security Council resolution and it was unclear whether it would back the new draft.

Unlike with Libya, Arab states have resisted strong action, let alone authorizing force, against Syria -- a strategic nation that borders Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

Arab hesitance reflects fears of instability in Syria as well as the reluctance of nations such as Saudi Arabia to see another authoritarian government swept away after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, diplomats and analysts said.

"The Saudi perception is, rightly or wrongly, that it is being encircled by countries in the grip of the Arab spring and this is deeply disturbing to them," said the Arab diplomat.

SAUDI ARABIA ENCIRCLED?

Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress think tank said it was easier for Arab leaders to back action against Gaddafi because of his history of antagonizing them as well as the North African nation's more modest strategic significance.

"Libya was kind of an easy test case because of the nature of the leadership there. This is, I think, much more difficult," he said. "I think you'll continue to see enduring divisions among the Arab leaders about what to do about Syria and uncertainty and the autopilot will be to try to stick with what is in power right now for fear of what might come after."

Obama administration officials have faced repeated questions about why they were willing to intervene in Libya but not in Syria. They argue the two cases are not the same.

The Arab diplomat suggested Western voters were unlikely to punish their leaders for failing to intervene in Syria as they did in Libya. Libyan leader Gaddafi has long been a Western nemesis.

"I don't get the sense that there is any constituency ... in any of these countries that will hold the leaders to account as to why are you not intervening in Syria as you did in Libya," he said. "It's a question for pundits."

(Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.