Summit attendees accept UN-brokered plan for Syria
Published Saturday, June 30, 2012 6:20AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 30, 2012 11:04PM EDT
Officials attending an international conference on Syria agreed Saturday to a UN-brokered peace plan, but left open the question of President Bashar Assad’s future role in a provisional government.
The UN plan calls for establishing a transitional national unity government, with full executive powers, that could include members of Assad's government, the opposition and other groups.
It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
The United States backed away from demands that Assad be excluded from any future government, hoping the concession would force Russia to apply more pressure on its ally.
Moscowhas steadfastly refused to back any plan forcing a regime change in Syria, arguing outsiders can’t order a political solution for the county’s ongoing conflict that has left at least 14,000 dead.
But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted Saturday that Assad would still have to go, saying it was incumbent on Russia and China to show him “the writing on the wall.”
“There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime,” she said. “What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird echoed Clinton’s sentiments, stressing that Assad cannot remain president of Syria.
Baird’s spokesperson Richard Roth said that the presence of Assad as president of the country will “be a deal-breaker” for those who are working for peace in the country.
However, Roth added that Canada must remain realistic and examine every avenue that might bring a lasting peace to the country.
Roth said Canada supports the UN plan, saying it “remains the best hope” for a peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict that has raged on for more than a year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the UN plan doesn’t require Assad’s ouster, saying there’s “no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process.”
Russiadidn’t waver on its opposition to any clause that excluded the current Syrian regime from negotiations.
“If the Americans had hoped that the Russians could be persuaded to sort of pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the Obama administration, so far (Russian) President Putin is not playing along,” international relations expert Aurel Braun told CTV News Channel Saturday.
Despite an attempt to hit the reset button after the invasion of Georgia in 2008, with the U.S. “bending over backwards” to accommodate the Russians, they still think it’s the Americans who need to change their policy, the University of Toronto professor said.
“They (Russians) want to have greater influence and relations are quite poor,” Braun said.
He said he doesn’t think the U.S. will get involved directly in the conflict at the moment because President Barack Obama is facing an election this year.
But that’s not the only reason, he said.
“There has been an election in France, and whereas before you had somebody like Nicolas Sarkozy, who was one of the key people pushing for intervention in Libya, you now have a new president, Francois Hollande, who’s pulling troops out of Afghanistan,” Braun said.
“He does not wish to get involved in a new adventure, and therefore you don’t have the same impetus from Europe,” he said.
After the conference, a seemingly frustrated UN envoy Kofi Annan said that any decision on the country’s future is up to its people.
“I will doubt that the Syrians who have fought so hard to have independence . . . will select people with blood on their hands to lead them,” he said.
Annan had earlier warned the permanent members of the UN Security Council that if they failed to act at the talks, they would be risking more violence across the region as Syria slips into all-out civil war.
He said it would become an international crisis of “grave severity” that would provide a new front for terrorism.
“History is a sombre judge and it will judge us all harshly, if we prove incapable of taking the right path today,” he said at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva.
It appeared Annan was targeting Russia with his comments, which is Syria’s main ally and arms supplier.
“While many spoke of united support for one . . . some simultaneously took national or collective initiatives of their own, undermining the process,” Annan said.
“This has fueled uncertainty in Syria, in turn fueling the flames of violence.”
Annan said by attending the conference, countries have signalled an intention to show leadership, but challenged them to follow through.
Foreign ministers were rushed from luxury sedans into the elegant and sprawling Palais des Nations along with their legions of diplomats and aides and envoys from Europe, Turkey and three Arab countries representing groups within the Arab League.
Russiaand China, which has followed Russia's lead on Syria, have twice used their council veto to shield Syria from UN sanctions.
Major regional players Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited. The Russians objected to the Saudis, who support the Syrian opposition. The U.S. objected to Iran, which supports Assad's regime.
Syria, verging on a full-blown civil war, has endured a particularly bloody week, with up to 125 people reported killed nationwide on Thursday alone.
International tensions also heightened last week after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane, leading to Turkey setting up anti-aircraft guns on its border with its neighbour.