Tue, Jul 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Syrian peace talks: Don’t hold your breath

Former US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said last week that the UN Security Council’s failure to take decisive action on Syria was a ‘moral and strategic disgrace’

By Louis Charbonneau  /  Reuters, UNITED NATIONS

Some diplomats say the ebbing hopes for a serious peace conference highlights the impotence of the UN and Brahimi, who for months has threatened to quit the post like his predecessor, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Annan quit the job last year out of frustration at the way the dispute between Russia, al-Assad’s main arms supplier, and the US, which supports the rebels and recently announced it would begin providing them with arms, has left the UN Security Council in a state of paralysis on the Syrian issue.

Russia and China long ago ruled out sanctioning Syria and have vetoed three Western and Gulf Arab-backed resolutions condemning al-Assad’s government for an increasingly sectarian war that the UN says has killed more than 90,000.

Richard Gowan of New York University predicted that a collapse of Kerry’s peace conference plan would increase the pressure on Obama to send more and heavier weapons to the Syrian rebels.

“If the Geneva proposal fails, there will be pressure on the US to move beyond its current offer of light weapons to the rebels, especially if [al-]Assad’s forces score more victories,” Gowan said. “Kerry’s bet on Geneva may backfire by demonstrating that diplomacy is really a lost cause, but perhaps Kerry, who has reportedly argued for air strikes, is fine with that.”

Washington’s cautious move to begin arming moderate Syrian rebels — not Islamist militants, who are increasingly present in the conflict — came after it said al-Assad’s forces had crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons.

The Syrian government denies the charge and says the rebels have used chemical arms. It also accuses Western and Gulf Arab governments of arming the opposition.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, now in his second and final term, is increasingly worried that he may be remembered as the man who failed in Syria, UN diplomats say. He has even considered stepping in himself to try to broker a peace deal if Brahimi throws in the towel, the envoys added.

Former US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who will soon take up the post of Obama’s national security adviser, said last week that the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action on Syria was a “moral and strategic disgrace.”

“The repeated failure of the Security Council to unify on the crucial issue of Syria, I think, is a stain on this body and something that I will forever regret — even though I don’t believe that outcome is the product of the action of the United States,” Rice said.

British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant echoed Rice’s unusually strong words, which were clearly aimed at Russia and China. He also defended the UN against suggestions that the organization itself was somehow responsible for the Security Council’s failure to act on Syria.

“People talk about it being a stain on the United Nations, but you can’t blame the United Nations,” he said, adding that the responsibility lies with its member states. “We have tried very hard over the last two years to secure some leverage for the Security Council in this crisis as it’s unfolded. Unfortunately, we’ve had three resolutions vetoed by Russia and China... Events on the ground might have unfolded very differently had those resolutions been adopted.”

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