Syria: “We No Longer Want Arab Solutions to the Crisis”

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Calling it a “conspiratorial scheme,” the Syrian government yesterday rejected an Arab League peace plan which proposed that embattled President Bashar al-Assad cede power to his vice president, begin a dialogue with the opposition, hold early elections and form a unity government.

“Syria considers these decisions a violation of its national sovereignty, a blatant interference in its internal affairs and a flagrant violation of the objectives for which the [Arab League] was established,” a Syrian official said in a statement released by the country’s official news agency, SANA.

“We no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem announced today at a news conference in Damascus. “It is the duty of the Syrian government to take what it sees as necessary measures to deal with those armed groups that spread chaos,” he added. The Syrian regime says 2,000 police officers and soldiers have been killed by what it calls “terrorists.”

The Arab League — whose member nations have been divided over how to respond to the events in Syria — enacted wide-ranging sanctions against the regime last November and sent an observer mission to the country in early December.

In recent days, the Gulf Arab states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — withdrew 55 monitors, leaving 110 monitors from other states behind. The Gulf countries also pressured the United Nations Security Council to intervene and take “all needed measures … to press Syria to implement the Arab League and the Arab initiative on Syria.”

Syria scholar Joshua Landis says the Gulf countries’ moves reflect the deep divisions within the 22-member organization and, in particular, Saudi Arabia’s desire to hand off the problem. “Syria is a big hot potato right now,” he told FRONTLINE. “Everyone is trying to loft it off onto someone else.”

He says Saudi Arabia has pushed for the U.N. to take on the crisis, “in part, because it looks tough, but also because it knows the U.N. is not going to do anything [because of Russian and Chinese opposition].” Last October, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution condemning Syria and threatening sanctions.

The Arab League’s critics say that not only has the notoriously fractious organization failed to stop the regime’s violent crackdown — which has killed more than 5,400 civilians, according to the U.N. — but its intervention has afforded the regime more time.

Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi, who heads the Arab League’s mission to Syria, responded to those criticisms yesterday, saying its objective is “not to bring an immediate end to violence but to investigate and observe the situation.” Earlier today the Syrian government reportedly agreed to extend the monitoring mission for another month, but the departure of Gulf monitors has only fed doubts that the league can do little to stop the violence.

Though the Arab League’s next moves are unclear, Syria’s rejection of the organization is painfully so.

“They can head to New York or to the moon,” Foreign Minister al-Moualem said today. “So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern.”

Dig Deeper: The Arab League

Learn more about the origin and evolution of the fractious 22-member organization — which has taken on more prominence as the crisis in Syria has intensified — in this Council on Foreign Relations’ Backgrounder.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, an Arab league observer, left, listens to a Syrian injured man who was wounded during an explosion at Midan neighborhood in Damascus, Syria, on Friday Jan. 6, 2012. An explosion ripped through a police bus in the center of Syria's capital Friday, killing at least 10 people and possibly 25 in an attack authorities blamed on a suicide bomber, an official and state-run TV said. (AP Photo/SANA)
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