And now … Syria!
– U.S. and Allies Say Syria Leader Must Step Down (New York Times, August 18, 2011):
WASHINGTON — The United States and several of its major allies on Thursday called on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to give up power. The carefully choreographed announcements came after months of popular protests and increasingly deadly reprisals that the United Nations commissioner for human rights said amounted to crimes against humanity by the Syrian authorities.
President Obama, who had faced criticism for not acting more assertively, ordered the freezing of all Syrian assets within American jurisdiction, banned imports of Syrian oil and barred American citizens from having any business dealings with the Syrian government, which the administration once courted in the hopes of improving relations.
He called on other countries to impose their own sanctions, focusing on Syria’s oil and gas industry, and European leaders suggested those were now under consideration.
The ultimate effect of the chorus of international condemnation and sanctions remains to be seen, and the United States and its allies risked highlighting their relative powerlessness to alter events inside Syria. But their decision to turn up the pressure substantially could have a profound psychological effect on a government that has survived for decades by retrenching during crises and manipulating relations in the region — from Turkey to Israel, Lebanon to Iran — to keep itself relevant, if not admired.
Diplomatically, at least, Syria now appears more isolated than at any other time in the 41 years that Mr. Assad or his father, Hafez, has led the country. Administration officials and diplomats said they hoped that fact alone could break open fissures among the political and business elite cosseted under Mr. Assad’s rule. Until now they appear to have bet on the government’s somehow surviving.
It was Mr. Obama’s first explicit call for the Syrian leader to resign, and it came after weeks of divisions within the administration and mounting criticism from many in Congress, advocates of Syrian democracy and others that the United States and other nations had responded too tepidly to the violent suppression of protests that have swept Syrian cities for five months. It also followed behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvering in which Turkey took the lead in an unsuccessful effort to persuade Mr. Assad to halt the violence.
“We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement released Thursday morning after coordination with allies in Europe. “He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Almost simultaneously, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany issued a joint statement urging Mr. Assad “to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people.” Canada made a similar appeal, as did the European Union. The United Nations human rights office in Geneva issued a damning, 22-page report that concluded that Syrian government forces might have committed crimes against humanity by carrying out summary executions, torturing prisoners and harming children.
The United Nations report, overseen by the high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, accused Syria of grossly violating its citizens’ rights and carrying out “numerous summary executions, including 353 named victims.” It also said that members of the security forces “posed as civilians in order to cause unrest and portray an inaccurate picture of events.”
The office recommended that the United Nations Security Council consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. In New York, the Security Council met later on Thursday and discussed potential steps against Syria.
The United States and European members of the Security Council pressed for a resolution condemning Syria and were debating sanctions that could include an arms embargo, a freezing of assets and a ban on travel by the country’s leaders, diplomats there said. They would not say whether the Council would consider referring the matter to the international court, but did say that Council members expressed a desire to hold accountable those responsible for the violence. At the United Nations, Syria said the United States was trying to use the Security Council as an “instrument” to instigate further instability.
Even Russia, which has resisted punitive measures against Syria so far and appears likely to veto an embargo, has sounded increasingly frustrated with Mr. Assad’s government, which has ignored repeated calls to halt the violence, including those from countries like Turkey with which it had closer relations. While Mr. Assad told the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Wednesday that the crackdown had in fact ended, activists within Syria said the violence continued unabated.
After Mr. Assad spoke on Wednesday, two people were reported killed in the city of Homs after a nighttime prayer, held only during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset; at least one more died in the city on Thursday when security forces opened fire on a small protest in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Residents and activists also reported attacks and arrests in other cities, including Deir al-Zour, Hama and the capital, Damascus. “The killings and destruction haven’t stopped,” an activist in Homs, who would be identified only as Mohamad, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “They haven’t withdrawn from the city. On the contrary, the number of security forces has increased and gunfire is heard every so often.”
In Washington, administration officials acknowledged that American sanctions alone would have little effect. “No outside power can or should impose this transition,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the State Department. “It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, in a democratic system based on the rule of law and dedicated to protecting the rights of all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sect or gender.”
With Syria’s opposition barely organized and under constant harassment, there is no obvious path to a transfer of power, even if Mr. Assad’s grip weakens significantly. “Nothing about this is going to be easy,” a senior administration official said.
The sanctions that Mr. Obama ordered took aim at Syria’s oil and petroleum exports. Syria is a relative small energy producer, exporting only 148,000 barrels of oil a day, almost all of it to European nations, according to the United States Department of Energy. Mr. Cameron, Mr. Sarkozy and Ms. Merkel said in their statement that they would be “actively supporting” additional sanctions through the European Union, but no new ones were announced Thursday. Like the United States, the European Union has imposed sanctions on Mr. Assad and dozens of other security officials and businessmen in Syria. The union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the union was discussing how to broaden its sanctions.
The Obama administration has sharply criticized the violence in Syria from the start, steadily intensifying its pressure on Mr. Assad with statements and with actions. But in stark contrast to its comparatively swift calls for the ouster of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, or Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the administration stopped short of doing so in the case of Syria.
The White House and State Department debated the issue intensely in recent weeks, with Mrs. Clinton arguing that a call for Mr. Assad to go would be meaningless without broader support and action. An administration official said the president first broached calling for Mr. Assad’s departure in a phone call with Mr. Sarkozy and Ms. Merkel on Aug. 5.
Mrs. Clinton persuaded the White House to delay its call until the sanctions could be readied and to give Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, a chance to press the Syrian leader to halt the violence and begin a reform process that would include a unity government and new elections. As the violence continued and intensified with the start of Ramadan, Mr. Obama spoke with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and said he wanted to move more quickly, an administration official said.
Turkey, with a shared border and deep historic and economic ties to Syria, did not join in the diplomatic chorus on Thursday. “Turkey was the first country to say that there was no point in continuing talks with Syria while military operations continued,” said a Turkish government official, who asked not to be named because of his diplomatic position. “Turkey, however, is not at the point mentioned in President Obama’s speech today.”
U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.), explains that the Bush Administration planned to take out 7 countries in 5 years:
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran.
Iran’s Press TV:
– NATO plans to arm Syria criminal gangs (Press TV, Aug 14, 2011):
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Turkey are preparing the ground for military intervention in Syria especially through providing criminal Syrian armed gangs with weaponry.
Large caches of weapons including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, mortar bombs and heavy machine guns will be sent via ground to major Syrian cities witnessing unrest, according to a report by Debka.
Turkey’s military will protect the arms caches on their passage to Syrian rebels.
Syrian rebels have been receiving training inside Turkey to use the weapons for two weeks.
Turkey has warned that it will join any possible military action against neighboring Syria.
On Saturday, Ankara recalled its retired officers to be deployed to cities along the border with Syria. Ankara is a NATO member seeking an EU membership.
More than 1600 people have lost their lives since a wave of unrest gripped Syria five months ago.
Syrian authorities blame foreign-backed armed gangs for the killings. Damascus says as many as 500 soldiers and police officers have been killed by armed groups.