Al-Assad should take the honorable exit

Al-Assad should take the honorable exit

The White House stated yesterday that the United States was not in favor of a military intervention in Syria. Instead, it is in favor of putting more pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime and trying to isolate it in order to stop it from attacking its own people.

This is not only an answer by U.S. President Barack Obama to Senator John McCain, who said March 5 that the U.S. might consider carrying out airstrikes in order to pursue Damascus – a method that was carried out in the Balkans in the 1990s.

It is rather a proxy answer to Russia (and China), which are against any United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria out of concerns that it may lead to a military operation like the one in Libya last year. That includes the “humanitarian corridor” proposal which would necessitate at least a physical protection of aid.

The urging from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday for an immediate humanitarian corridor shortly before the White House statement seems like a call for the international community to step up diplomatic efforts rather than any concrete planning by Turkey to ensure the physical access of aid to Syrian people via Turkish territory.

Turkey is also part of international efforts to force al-Assad to stop what he has been doing for nearly a year now and, preferably, to step down for the good of the country. That would satisfy Russian demands as well in terms of their desire not to see the fall of the regime.

As part of that international effort in which the Arab League, the European Union and the U.N. are involved, Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the U.N., will be going to Damascus on March 10 on the same day that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, meets his colleagues at the Arab League in Cairo.

According to Hürriyet Daily News sources, Annan is going to offer a sort of honorable exit to al-Assad to stop the turmoil and human tragedy in his country. The message of Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun yesterday in Damascus was a move to prepare al-Assad for Annan’s offer.

That parallels what Turkish President Abdullah Gül had offered last week when he showed the “Yemen example” to al-Assad: leave the chair to a deputy.

Al-Assad’s message yesterday showed he has some difficulty in digesting it. His vow to “crush the terrorists” while promising more for reforms gives mixed signals to the outer world.

But the U.S. repositioning yesterday gave another chance for al-Assad to save his country and people from more bloodshed and isolation. Al-Assad still has room to maneuver, a chance to find an honorable exit and some time to reconsider his position; he should use that before being too late for the good of the whole neighborhood as well.

Obama’s message on Syria is in a way valid for Iran (and Israel) too; he doesn’t want to drag the U.S. into another military conflict – at least until the elections in the fall this year.