‘Friends and foes’ in Syria

‘Friends and foes’ in Syria

Coupled with news that scores of civilians are being killed every day in Syria, the horrible deaths of two brave journalists have surely tilted the international public opinion further in favor of an “interventionist solution.” 

However, the decisive battle regarding the positions of rival states is far from over. 

The Feb. 19 and 20 unofficial G20 foreign ministers’ gathering in Los Cabos, Mexico, was important in many respects. Being the first such G20 summit, it represented a crucial step into diplomacy. Let’s note that it comes after Russia and China effectively paralyzed the U.N. Security Council regarding Syria with their Feb. 4 veto, and also after the Arab League proved its impotence in finding a regional solution. Evidently, the “interventionists” are busily seeking to cover their interests in a “multilateral” cloak. 

Finally, the G20 summit has preceded today’s “Friends of Syria” summit in Tunisia. Preparing the stage, Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoğlu voiced his determination that the summit will give “a clear message on more concrete steps.” What those steps could be, and what other steps they may inevitably lead to, remains a source of speculation. 

On the other side of the equation, the “Feb. 22 phone call day” from Russia should attract more attention. President Dmitry Medvedev on that day called Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in that order. 
During the first call, the Saudi king ruled out the “dialogue” option, reiterating Riyadh’s insistence on regime change. 

The second conversation was notably different. Al-Maliki and Medvedev “agreed on stopping violence in Syria, reaching a dialogue that would lead to a political solution and preventing any possible foreign intervention,” according to a statement from al-Maliki’s office. They also agreed that sanctions against Syria can “only aggravate suffering.” 

In the third call, Medvedev and Ahmadinejad “spoke out in favor of the crisis being ended [...] without any external interference,” according to a Kremlin statement.

In an article for Asia Times, former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar points toward another meeting the same day. Speaking to U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul in Moscow, Russian Deputy FM Sergei Rybakov voiced “strong objection” to the sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Iran, according to the article. Rybakov further said such political pressure only impeded a “negotiated solution to the West’s standoff with Iran.”

Russia has refused to attend today’s summit (China remains “undecided” as I write this). The Feb. 21 statement from Russian Foreign Ministry’s Alexander Lukashevich reveals the level of tension. As quoted by Kommersant, the spokesman says about the meeting: “You get the feeling that we’re talking about creating some kind of international coalition, just as was the case with the ‘Contact Group on Libya,’ with the goal of supporting one side against the other in an internal conflict.” 

Washington, which “leads from behind” the campaign against Syria (similar to its position in the Libya assault), is hardly shying away. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has simply said Russia and China were not even invited. 

As the cards are being put on the table, contours of a sectarian line are becoming more apparent. Shiite leaderships in Iran, Syria and Iraq against a de facto “Sunni coalition” of Gulf sheikhdoms, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood. With allegations that one group in Syria has adopted the highly-provocative “Muawiyah Brigade” as its name, and the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq, what’s going on hardly looks like a recipe for regional peace and stability.