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Everybody supports political solution in Syria – Arab League Sec-Gen | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Bin Helli revealed the latest about the situation in Syria, his views on how the crisis should be resolved, and his hopes for the future of Syria. Bin Helli revealed that the Arab League is working to convene a Syrian Contact Group conference before the end of the month to discuss Kofi Annan’s faltering initiative, whilst he also commented on Moscow’s calls for an international conference to discuss the fate of Syria, not to mention Iran’s role in the region.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What’s your view of the Russian initiative to hold an international conference on Syria, particularly its invitation to Iran and other Syrian neighbors to discuss the crisis?

[Bin Helli] The Arab League and the United Nations [UN] are discussing a conference for the Syria Contact Group to be held at the end of this month in Geneva, which will be jointly chaired by UN Secretary-General [Ban Ki-Moon] and Arab League Secretary-General [Nabil Elaraby], whilst all parties involved in the crisis will be invited to take part in this, including the European Union and some international parties. This conference will take place at the ministerial level to support the main points in the plan of joint-envoy Kofi Annan, namely launching dialogue, implementing a ceasefire and supporting the Syrian people to achieving their ambitions with regards to change and stability.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will this conference aim to put forward a mechanism regarding the adoption or development of the Annan plan?

[Bin Helli] The Syrian Contact Group conference will aim to activate a number of parts of Annan’s plan because some of these have yet to be implemented, whilst at the same time taking the initiative’s reins in a practical manner, in light of the multiplicity of initiatives being put forward at the current time by some international parties. This conference is being put forward through the Secretary-General’s contacts with the different parties and discussing all possibilities and evaluating the previous steps taken.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will this conference take place?

[Bin Helli] This conference will take place before the end of this month, and this has been agreed upon following communication with Russia, China and Italy. All steps are being coordinated with Ban Ki-Moon and Kofi Annan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Wouldn’t you agree that the idea of a Syrian Contact Group conference is not much different to the idea for an international conference that has been put forward by the Russians?

[Bin Helli] This [Contact Group conference] is part of the efforts of the Arab League…as for the Russian position and role, this has – until now – been in the framework of communication and consultation with the Secretary-General and Arab states.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby is scheduled to visit Russia in the near future. He previously stated that this trip would take place within the coming weeks. Is there any news on this?

[Bin Helli] No date has been set for the Arab League Secretary-General’s visit to Russia.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can you explain a conference being held to discuss the Kofi Annan initiative when many in the international community and Arab world believe this initiative has failed?

[Bin Helli] Let me say that Annan’s plan may have failed at the level of the observers, and they have not been able – until now – to achieve anything tangible on the ground because their role is simply to record what is happening in Syria without intervention and report who is breaking the ceasefire. There can be no doubt that their reports are important and there has been a trend to develop the observer mission into a peace-keeping mission, and this proposal is present.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has any decision been taken on this proposal?

[Bin Helli] A decision may be reached next month following the end of the observers’ three-month mission. At this this, perhaps, we will review the nature of their operations and whether they will continue with the same assignment or whether their mission will be developed to the level of peacekeeping forces.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that it would be difficult to renew the international observers’ mission if no progress has been made in Syria…what is your view of this? If there have been no signs of progress until now then how will the idea of sending peacekeeping forces help?

[Bin Helli] All ideas are on the table, including extending [the mission] with a new view that is more decisive or by transforming this into a peacekeeping mission or others. There will be a genuine review following the end of the observers’ three-month mission.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What action has been taken in response to the continuation of the killing and destruction in Syria, not to mention even the international observers being targeted?

[Bin Helli] Unfortunately, we are facing an extremely dangerous situation, for the Syrian government is gambling on the military and security solution without reading the latest developments on the ground, namely that this solution has been met with failure. For their part, the opposition is gambling on toppling the regime – also via the security solution – and is therefore failing to pay attention to the political view, and that also represents a problem. If this situation continues, according to the observers and others, then the situation in Syria will develop into a sectarian war, as can be seen with the reports of civil war. Signs have begun to indicate the mass movement of Syrians from one area to another for sectarian protection, and this represents a grave danger. Therefore we are trying to benefit from the proposal to hold the Syria Contact Group conference from a political standpoint, and activate the political process and concentrate the international and regional communities’ efforts in another professional direction, whilst we are also seeking to hold a Syrian opposition conference.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] A preparatory meeting or committee unifying the position of the Syrian opposition was supposed to take place this month. What is the latest?

[Bin Helli] There are currently communications taking place following the election of a new president of the Syrian National Council [SNC], as well as communication with all Syrian political opposition forces and trends. We are communicating with all these parties to organize a Syrian opposition conference and perhaps reach a new mechanism or formula to pave the way towards a political stage. Unfortunately, there remains the painful and concerning reality on the ground in Syria, namely the lack of adherence to the ceasefire.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the time factor? Do you truly believe that the situation on the ground can be resolved by movement on the political scene?

[Bin Helli] Whatever the situation and developments, we cannot ignore the international and regional efforts that have been exerted to resolve the crisis in Syria. This is not to mention the opposition, which must establish a vision for dialogue and be prepared for the transitional stage. This is something that we consider a necessity. There must be a government to oversee any transitional period in order to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people with regards to freedom, democracy and change.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of Russia’s hints regarding the possibility of al-Assad stepping down?

[Bin Helli] There can be no doubt that everybody is now aware of the importance of a political solution and everybody supports this, for at the end of the road no power can impose a radical solution when the situation in Syria has reached this stage.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is one of the solutions for an effective ceasefire to be imposed in Syria, and then for quick presidential elections to take place?

[Bin Helli] All scenarios are on the table, the question is how will the Syrian regime and opposition respond?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Syrian people are asking how many people must die until there is a solution? How would you characterize the international pressure, which was called for by Arab foreign ministers at the Doha summit? What more is required now that a number of western states have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria?

[Bin Helli] Nobody in the world will defend the interests of another people; the people must defend their own interests. The Syrian people are losing in Syria today, particularly with regards to the deterioration of the Syrian state, and this is a disaster. The Syrian people and state, as well as the Arabs, are all losing, and so everybody must be aware of the importance of making concessions to reach a common denominator which can serve as a source of consensus between the Syrians in order to achieve their demands and aspirations for democracy and transfer of power. This is all between the Syrians themselves, away from international pressure or intervention.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the role being played by Iran against the Gulf States to reduce the pressure on Syria and help the al-Assad regime? Do you not fear that Iran will attempt to export crises to other Arab states?

[Bin Helli] The Arab League strongly opposes any interference in Arab affairs or statements that are hostile to any Arab state, and there can be no imposition of any security view or hegemony against the Gulf States by any party. The security of the Gulf and Arab states is in their own hands, and this cannot be in Iran’s hands or any other state that wants to impose its view on the region. The solution is dialogue and rapprochement between the Arab world and its neighbors within the framework of mutual interests and regional security. As for the Syrian issue, any support of the violence in Syria and gambling on a security solution is a losing proposition and that is why we are talking about the importance of returning to a realistic reading of the situation, as well as the international and regional perspectives, and resolving the problem within an inter-Syrian framework with Arab support. Even the brothers in Syria believe that the Arab framework is still the most appropriate and closest to their aspirations for an independent Syria, preserving the institutes of the state. Therefore gambling on a military solution or military intervention or regional alliances will not benefit Syria or the Syrian people, and will only lead to significant risks and a leap into the unknown with regards to the future of Syria.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Syria asked the Arab League to disengage from the solution?

[Bin Helli] Syria believes that so long as its membership to the Arab League is frozen, it will not deal with the Arab League, on the basis that what is happening there is taking place in its absence, however this is not right, because the Arab League does not have a personal agenda but rather aims to maintain Syria and its state institutes and potential which are deteriorating not just in terms of the deaths of civilians, but also the elements of the state which are moving towards destruction

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will Syria participate in the Contact Group conference?

[Bin Helli] The communication on this is taking place through joint peace envoy Kofi Annan. This will not take place via official participation, and the same goes for communication with the Syrian opposition.