With Arab pressure mounting to end 10 months of bloodshed, the Syrian regime has vowed to solve its own problems even if “half the universe” is conspiring against it.
The Tuesday remarks signaled that Arab League efforts to stem the violence are collapsing — something that could pave the way for the UN Security Council to step in, even though Russia is firmly opposed to punitive measures against its longtime ally.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem brushed off the threat of referring the issue to the Security Council — a move that could lead to tougher sanctions — rather than trying to resolve it regionally. The prospect of UN involvement has raised fears in Syria that an international intervention could be next.
“If they go to [UN headquarters in] New York or the moon, as long as we don’t pay their tickets, this is their business,” al-Moallem said at a news conference in Damascus.
He was reacting to an appeal by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the UN Security Council to take all “necessary measures” to force Syria to implement an Arab League’s ambitious peace plan announced on Sunday to create a national unity government in two months. Damascus has rejected the plan as a violation of national sovereignty.
“The decision was made after careful and thorough monitoring of events in Syria and the conviction by the GCC that the bloodshed and the killing of innocent people there is continuing,” the statement by the six-nation council said.
It also announced its six member nations — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — were withdrawing the 52 monitors they had contributed to an Arab League observer mission that has been heavily criticized for failing to stop the crackdown since it entered the country late last month. That would leave only about 110 observers on the ground, league officials said, a major blow to an effort that many see as the only hope for a regional solution to the crisis.
Later Tuesday, the state-run news agency SANA said al-Moallem sent a letter to Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby saying Damascus agreed to allow the mission to be extended for one month, until Feb. 23.
Al-Moallem also signaled the crackdown will continue, saying the government must deal firmly with armed groups.
Syria has consistently blamed armed gangs carrying out a foreign conspiracy for the revolt, not protesters seeking change in one of the most authoritarian states in the Middle East.
“It is the duty of the Syrian government to take what it sees as necessary measures to deal with those armed groups that spread chaos,” al-Moallem said. “The security solution is a popular demand by the Syrian people who want salvation.”
Several members of the 15-member UN council agreed on Tuesday that it was time for the full group to take action.
“This council should fully support the Arab League’s efforts to broker an end to the bloodshed and a peaceful transition to democracy in Syria,” US Ambassador Susan Rice said during the council’s monthly debate on the Middle East.
British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant expressed concern about weapons proliferation via sales to the Syrian government or illegal smuggling to the regime or opposition.
However, the potential for UN involvement is a highly charged issue. Any resolution would have to get past veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, which already rejected one Western-backed draft that threatened an arms embargo. The two countries argued that NATO misused a previous UN mandate authorizing use of force in Libya.