The Arab League envoy to Russia has dismissed Moscow's fears of a foreign military intervention in Syria, saying that neither local opposition groups nor international powers were in favor of such a solution to the Syrian crisis.
“Nobody in the Arab world, nobody in the Arab League, nobody on the Syrian side, [including] opposition parties in Syria, are willing to have military intervention in Syria. All of us are against it,” Giuma al-Ferjani told RIA Novosti during an interview on the sidelines of an international Valdai conference held over the weekend in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi under the title "Transformation in the Arab World and Russia's Interests."
Russia has repeatedly expressed concerns over a possible outside military interference in the Arab state where more than 5,400 people have been killed over the 11 month of bloody uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule, the UN has estimated.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last month Russia was “concerned about the attempts to repeat the Libyan scenario in Syria.”
“We sincerely tell our American and European partners about it by warning against repeating any variants of using force regardless of whom and where it may come from,” he said.
Western powers have dismissed allegations that they are plotting a military action in Syria, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying that such a move “has been absolutely ruled out.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said last week “we have no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria.”
Al-Ferjani said he believed it was the “duty” of the Arab League, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Western members of the UN Security Council to “avoid this kind of scenario and try to find a peaceful solution to make radical changes in the Syrian authority without any military intervention.”
Meanwhile, it appears that not all members of the 22-state Arab League share al-Ferjani’s views. Last month, the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first Arab leader to call publicly for Arab troops to be sent to Syria to end the violence there. He was later joined by former Arab League chief and Egyptian presidential hopeful Amr Moussa, who urged the League to consider the proposal. Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi agreed, saying that “all ideas” on how to end the crisis “will be open for discussion.”
Russia ‘gives wrong sign’ to Assad
A permanent Security Council member, Russia has vetoed two UN draft resolutions blaming Assad for his crackdown on protesters. Moscow called the documents “one-sided,” insisting that both Assad and Syrian armed opposition groups are to blame for the bloodshed.
Al-Ferjani said Russia’s position at the Security Council “gives the negative, wrong sign to the Syrian government.”
The Syrian authorities say they have been fighting “terrorist gangs” directed from abroad, adding that more than 2,000 military and security officers have lost their lives in the unrest.
Western powers have rejected a resolution drafted by Russia which calls on all sides involved in the conflict to immediately stop violence and launch dialogue. The United States and its European allies have called the document too mild.
“We have the impression that the Russian side did not understand very well the will of the Arab world, the wish of the Arab revolutions that are looking to settle the problem of democracy, the problem of human rights, the problem of their sovereignty,” al-Ferjani said.
Hopes remain for ‘compromise solution’
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 and has called on Assad to step down and hand over the power in the country to his deputy. Last month, the League froze its monitoring mission in Syria over what it called “a severe deterioration in the situation and the continued use of violence.”
Earlier in February, the Arab bloc came up with an idea to send a peacekeeping mission to Syria, a proposal strongly rejected by the Syrian government. Russia’s Lavrov said last week that peacekeeping missions "need to first have a peace to support.” He also said that kind of mission has to be authorized by the Security Council, while a mandate to use force in order to protect civilians could end up being used for other goals.
“We have had civilians protected in Libya and know the results,” Lavrov noted.
The Russian minister visited Syria earlier this month, accompanied by Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov. Following talks with Assad, Lavrov said the Syrian leader “gave assurance that he is fully committed to an end to violence, no matter its source” and was “prepared to hold talks with representatives of Syria’s opposition.”
He also said Russia was “ready to facilitate a rapid end to the crisis based on the positions set out in the Arab League initiative.”
“We give importance to the role of Russia. We followed the visit of Mr. Lavrov to Damascus, and our impression is that Russia will continue to exchange views with the parties involved in the Syrian crisis,” al-Ferjani said, adding: “We still hope the Arab League and Russia can reach a compromise solution, and we are working very hard to achieve these goals.”
When asked about the future of Assad and his regime, al-Ferjani said if the Syrian authorities “respond positively” to the Arab League and Syrian opposition appeal, “I think they can find an acceptable solution for the president to give him immunity,” as was the case with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed to step down in November last year under pressure from the opposition and has been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange.
“Now, this possibility could be reached,” al-Ferjani said, “but I think a few months later, it will be impossible to reach it.”
Last week, the UN General Assembly stepped up the pressure on Assad by overwhelmingly passing a resolution that endorses an Arab League plan calling for him to resign. The Syrian authorities have condemned the move as part of a plot to overthrow the country’s government.