Cairo, Asharq al-Awsat- Arab League [AL] Secretary General Nabil Elaraby has expressed his rejection of the military option in Syria and said the “AL and its countries do not undertake this role and the countries that can do not wish to do it.”
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Elaraby disclosed that he had held several meetings with UN officials and the ambassadors of Western countries and the United States to discuss the proposals for a solution to the crisis in Syria, in addition to discussing the results of Kofi Annan’s visit there.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not believe that the Syrian regime is not interested in a political solution and therefore a military option needs to be considered?
[Elaraby] I reject the military option for the simple reason that the AL and its countries do not undertake this role and the countries that can embark upon it do not wish to do so. They have declared this openly. The situation might change after months but we are talking today from the reality of the contacts that we are holding daily. I met the US ambassador in Cairo and also the ambassadors of many Western countries and all of them confirm this. Therefore the answer to this question is summed up in a single sentence, namely, the countries that are ready to undertake military action also reject this option. NATO’s secretary general had asserted this repeatedly when he frankly said before 10 days “we will not intervene in Syria.” Russia and probably China will oppose any move toward military or other action and therefore there are not signs of support for the military option.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the cost, the trade in arms from which some countries are benefiting, and the fact that there is no oil to tempt military intervention the reason for rejecting this option in Syria?
[Elaraby] I said this before as a joke. Whatever the reasons, the final conclusion points out that there are not at present any intentions of military intervention. But what will happen in one or two months is something I do not know but all the signs today lead to this result.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have alternatives or proposed solutions for developing Kofi Annan’s plan?
[Elaraby] There are in fact many alternatives and proposals in all direction. The UN secretary general recently submitted a report that will be discussed at the UN Security Council [UNSC]. It says briefly that we have reached a stage where we must discuss two matters: The steps that we will take and the future of the solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the new proposals from the AL and UN for a joint action plan or just from the Arab countries?
[Elaraby] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained that the Syrian issue should be discussed from all its aspects. Kofi Annan went to Damascus and the essence of the results from this visit will be discussed, particularly as he had demanded from the Syrian Government two things. These are to respect the six points and the mechanism implementing the agreement and to change its policy. Up to this moment, we are not seeing any change despite the AL’s talks with the government since 13 July last year about changing the policy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your comment on the Syrian Government’s accusation that Al-Qaeda organization is engaged in the violence, killings, and destruction against the Syrian people? The regime is talking about compliance with the ceasefire and blaming the opposition. How do you see this?
[Elaraby] I must be fair and look at the scene and what is happening in Syria from all its angles. There is no doubt that the case has reached the arming of the opposition in addition to interventions that call themselves “Al-Qaeda.” I personally do not know what we mean by “Al-Qaeda.” This is a word invented by the intelligence establishments from the premise that there are many terrorist groups that came together to form “Al-Qaeda.” In the same context, the Syrian opposition that we meet has acknowledged “Al-Qaeda’s” presence in Syria and that the regime is responsible for this phenomenon after releasing these groups from Syrian jails to carry out the bombings in the regime’s interest. Some are talking about the shabbihah and there is a lot of talk about “Al-Qaeda”, the violence, and the killings. But what I can say from what the Syrian opposition and Government are saying and also the monitors is that there are armed clashes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did Kofi Annan contact you during his time in Syria?
[Elaraby] No, and I did not want to talk to him when he was inside Damascus.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Burhan Ghalyun has stated that the Syrian people should rely on themselves and act to bring down the regime. Can this have overt or covert Arab support?
[Elaraby] If anyone of us was in the Syrian Foreign Ministry and sat to think and ask himself do we change the regime or not, then the answer would be why the change when I have protection from Russia, NATO has announced it would not intervene militarily, and there is veto at the UNSC from Russia and maybe China? The opposition will not win the battle with the regime no matter how much it is armed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mean because of the political disagreements?
[Elaraby] Yes, they have many disagreements and the balance of power is not in its favour. We are talking here about a group of militias. There is a professional and large army in Syria that has strong weapons and already took part in wars before.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the extent of the destruction has reached everything…
[Elaraby] The destruction is terrible and harmed the entire Syrian people. The killings and violence are going to affect the people for years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the opposition and the proposed dates for their meeting?
[Elaraby] They asked for the postponement despite the consultations held with them over eight months. The meeting was supposed to be held in January. I talked to Burhan Ghalyun at the end of February and we agreed to hold the conference in the middle of March. Importantly, it is obvious that they have internal problems. I advised them to agree on the interest of Syria, its people, and its future. There was agreement on 9 July so that we can tell who will continue and who will not and the inclination is to form a preparatory committee.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From whom will the committee be formed?
[Elaraby] The Syrian opposition will meet to form the committee and this could be within one week.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the aim from the unity of the opposition ranks to enter into a dialogue with the regime?
[Elaraby] The opposition rejects the dialogue with the regime but has no objection to a dialogue for the purpose of transferring power. We have not reached this stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The political solution is stalled. Will the situation continue as it is?
[Elaraby] Every problem has a political solution. Even wars end with the political solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your personal vision for ending the Syrian people’s tragedy and sparing the region’s countries the repercussions of the crisis?
[Elaraby] I announced that the crisis would affect the entire region and everyone agrees with me. We hope we will not reach this stage. I do not want to forestall events because Kofi Annan must surely come out from his visit to Syria with good results. [Asharq Al-Awsat] Lakhdar Brahimi was with you recently to present the results of his preparation for restructuring the AL. Has this any connection with amending the charter in view of an earlier statement by you about the need to amend it so that all the resolutions would become binding on the Arab countries?
[Elaraby] Brahimi was with me recently and we talked for a long time. He promised that I would receive the independent committee’s report before the end of July. Hence we will discuss in August what we can agree upon in the plan. I have not received the final report so far for you to ask me about it. As to the binding and non-binding resolutions, which as you mentioned are related to amending the charter, this will be discussed in August or September because the urgent thing is that we are determined to restructure the AL before September and examine the other recommendations for improving and developing performance so that the action at the AL will be modern. We opened the crises department in the AL last week.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can this department be used for a dialogue with Iran to end its interferences in the Arab countries?
[Elaraby] I will not talk about the Iran issue.