Assad's fate unclear in world powers' Syria plan

GENEVA Sat Jun 30, 2012 6:59pm EDT

1 of 7. Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, emerges from the Action Group on Syria meeting at the United Nations' Headquarters in Geneva, June 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Haraz N. Ghanbari/Pool

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GENEVA (Reuters) - World powers struck an agreement that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there but they remained at odds over what part President Bashar al-Assad might play in the process.

Peace envoy Kofi Annan said after the talks in Geneva on Saturday the government should include members of Assad's administration and the Syrian opposition and that it should arrange free elections.

"Time is running out. The conflict must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations," Annan told reporters.

The talks had been billed as a last-ditch effort to halt the worsening violence in Syria but hit obstacles as Russia, Assad's most powerful ally, opposed Western and Arab insistence that he must quit the scene.

The final communiqué said the transitional government should be formed "on the basis of mutual consent".

In a victory for Russia, it omitted text in a previous draft which explicitly said the plan would exclude from government anyone whose participation would undermine the transition's credibility and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.

After the meeting, the United States and Russia contradicted each other over what that meant for Assad, who has ruled Syria for 11 years since succeeding his father Hafez and has been condemned internationally for the ferocity of his crackdown on the uprising against him.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was "delighted" with the result. The key point was that the deal did not attempt to impose a process on Syria, he said

It did not imply at all that Assad should step down as there were no preconditions excluding any group from the proposed national unity government, Lavrov said.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it sent a clear message to Assad that he must quit.

"Assad will still have to go," Clinton told reporters. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."

Annan convened the meeting at the United Nations complex on the shores of Lake Geneva to salvage a peace plan that has largely been ignored by the Assad government. He said at the opening that the conflict was in danger of growing into a regional and international crisis.

At its conclusion, the Nobel peace laureate fielded a question on whether people with blood on their hands could be part of a transitional government by saying:

"I would doubt that the Syrians who have fought so hard for their independence to be able to have a say in how they are governed and who governs them will select people with blood on their hands to lead them.

"I cannot say that I am really happy but I am content with the outcome today."

Annan's plan for a negotiated solution to the 16-month-old conflict is the only one on the table. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began and the past few weeks have been among the bloodiest.

Assad's government forces killed more than 30 people in Damascus on Saturday when they fired a mortar bomb into a funeral procession for a man who died in shelling a day before, said opposition activists.

Government forces pushed their way into Douma on the outskirts of the capital after weeks of siege and shelling. Fleeing residents spoke of corpses in the streets.

Britain's ITV showed footage of clouds of black smoke over houses and said warplanes had struck at targets there.

The army also attacked pro-opposition areas in Deir al-Zor, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus, activists said.


The foreign ministers of the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members - Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain - all attended the Geneva talks along with Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Notably absent from the guest list were Iran, Syria's closest regional ally, and Saudi Arabia, a foe of both Damascus and Tehran and leading backer of the rebel forces. Nor was anyone from the Syrian government or opposition represented.

British Foreign Minister William Hague put a brave face on the Western compromise.

"These have been difficult talks as you can gather from the fact that we've spent more than nine hours discussing it. I think the result is a step forward, it is only a step forward but it is a step forward that is worth having," he said.

He welcomed the fact that Russia and China had signed up to the idea for a transitional government. But he lamented that no agreement had been reached on the question of arms sales to Syria and any future action, including sanctions, at the Security Council.

The agreement also called for people to be free to demonstrate peacefully and the release of political detainees as well as an immediate halt to the violence.

Middle East analyst Hayat Alvi of the U.S. Naval War College said he doubted the Assad government would accept the plan and enforcement of it would be almost impossible.

"The U.S. and other Western powers will not find any flexibility on the part of the Syrian regime, and its allies, namely Russia," he told Reuters from the United States.

"The proof is in the Assad regime's continuous acts of violence against the Syrian people, even while the diplomatic wheels have been turning. The wheels clearly are going in circles without moving forward."

That would likely be the scenario for months as long as Russia continued to support the Syrian government, Alvi said.

The conflict has evolved from peaceful protests against the Assad family's four-decade rule to something akin to a civil war with a sectarian dimension.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 56 people were killed across Syria on Saturday.

Syria's border with Turkey was also tense after a Turkish military build-up in response to Syria's shooting down of a Turkish warplane last week.

A Syrian witness said Turkish forces stationed on the border opposite the Syrian town of Jandaris fired machineguns in the air in response to Syrian army bombardment of rebel areas.

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn, Tom Miles, Stepahnie Nebehay, Robert Evans and Emma Farge in Geneva, Oliver Holmes and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Peter Apps in London; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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Comments (56)
I’ve been interested in getting a ballpark figure for how many fighters there are in all these Islamic and terrorist gangs. If we had an approximate figure this would help characterize the situation more accurately.

Reuters and most of the other western networks have effectively declared war on Syria, so they are very very short on facts and figures. I don’t think they want us to put the information together so they are just basically giving us nothing but emotional propaganda, fallacious terminology and rumours from terrible sources.

But after a little research I have estimated that based on the ‘FSA’ being “by far the largest militant group” in Syria, and by the FSAs own estimate of their numbers (about 40,000 known to be a hugely inflated figure) compared to western intelligence figures of around 10-15,000 (also very likely a heavily inflated figure) lets just be nice and say that the ‘FSA’ is 30,000 strong.

By all accounts they are the bulk of the fighters in Syria apparently.

So this means that the maximum number of opposition militants is 60,000 men. And I mean maximum! I would say it’s more like 20 – 25,000 personally… if that!

So anyway from this figure we realise that the militants account for 0.26% of Syrians.

We realise that out of the 17,250,000 Sunnis in Syria, 0.3% are fighting against the regime.

We can also see from this that of the Syrian armed forces between 400 and 600,000 troops, we can be generous and say 400,000 , a maximum of 15,000 so called defectors have joined the FSA.

This acounts for 3.75% of the Armed forces.

Now the really interesting part of this that is never mentioned by western media is that the vast majority of “army defectors” are reserve troops… meaning they are not even active troops!

Conscription is mandatory in Syria for every male over the age of 18, so it is very misleading to say thousands are defecting from the military without pointing out the fact that they are not even active troops, just Syrian conscripts or reserve troops.

Personally I would put the number of active military defectors at a few hundred, and maybe 1 or 2 thousand Syrian conscripts.

So to wrap things up, lets be stupidly generous and double the figures:

- 0.5% of Syrians are fighting the regime.

- 0.6% of Syrian Sunnis are fighting the regime.

- 8% of Syrian military trained men have defected.

These are very generous figures and they are miniscule!

Now why can a guy like me make more sense of this situation in 10 minutes than a trained professional journalist with a degree in investigative reporting?

The lack of any factual information or figures leads one to believe they don’t want you to know what’s going on, and they have no interest in investigating the situation.

If you ask me the real story here is about the influence of western media over us, and how it can shape our views by strategy and dishonesty.

Jun 30, 2012 1:27am EDT  --  Report as abuse
justinolcb wrote:
15,000 corpses and still the world’s leaders are talking, talking, talking

Jun 30, 2012 4:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Binary wrote:
Dear von R,

Welcome to the “Reuters is Bad” club… population 4.

“Now why can a guy like me make more sense of this situation in 10 minutes than a trained professional journalist with a degree in investigative reporting?”

In the first instance, I do not think you have made sense of it at all. This is not math von R – it is a civil war. Strategists (failed ones) have attempted to apply mathematics to war since the dawn of time, but it does not work. Now I could take a week, month or year to explain to you why, but quite frankly, I do not believe that you will ever get that. Suffice to say (for the other readers here), that you find by your reasoning, yourself tied up in a classic Sorites paradox – that is: how many additional combatants does the FSA then have to acquire (in your opinion)? Another one? Perhaps two? A couple of hundred? Ah, forget it – you still won’t get it.

Next, could we spend a moment discussing your logic? You do not have the exact figures either, do you? You are thinking, assuming, surmising, inferring – is that not right? I mean, that is what your entire article is about, not so? When you state: “…the vast majority of ‘army defectors’ are reserve troops…”, are you saying or praying? Why would it be “very misleading to say thousands are defecting from the military…“ when the only fact that we really have, is that thousands are indeed defecting from the military? Even when “personally I would put the number… at a few hundred…” where in the name of all the saints did you get that number from? Thin air? Now here is the classic – you’re going to love this. You then go on to state that: “The lack of any factual information…” Here is a question for you: are you of the opinion that your contribution is factual (and that of Reuters is not)? The way I see it, Reuters has been the one who had stuck to the hard facts – you have been the one to “I think…” and “personally I…” and “…vast majority…” not Reuters. But I guess this will be lost on you as well, won’t it?

Yes, von R… we should focus on the real story: Assad is killing his own people and the death toll is rising. You go ahead and talk about Reuters and how you think they may be biased. It is a welcome diversion from this Syrian reality for some. But make no mistake. Syria is engulfed in a civil war. Assad will lose. But not before he’d killed more. Sleep well tonight.

Jun 30, 2012 7:39am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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