New York, Asharq Al-Awsat – Despite the emphasis placed by Western countries, headed by the United States, Britain, and France, on the importance of reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria, there is also a strong commitment to adopt a mechanism for holding the Syrian regime to account for the killings in the country.
In his statement to Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, Alistair Burt, British Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Those who are responsible for the killings and tragic violence in Syria must be held accountable”. In response to a question about the possibility of granting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his aides immunity in return for stepping down from power, Burt answered clearly that “it is necessary to hold those responsible to account, and we cannot abandon this issue”. However, at the same time, he pointed out that “a political solution is preferable” based on what the Syrians agree upon for the next stage, and stressed the need for a political mechanism that ensures the transition of power in Syria. Yet it seems that any initiative agreed upon by the Syrians will not include any provisions for immunity or guarantees for the Syrian President.
When asked whether it would be possible to adopt a mechanism such as the Gulf initiative, which paved the way for former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power and hand over to his successor Abd-Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, with specific details regarding the manner of the power transition and preparations for elections in the country, Burt simply replied “I hope so”. However, after a pause, he added: “I hope this happens, but we do not see any signs of it”. He went on to say: “In the end, the Syrian people must decide”, in reference to the role of the opposition, particularly those within Syria, in determining the course of the political process. It is worth noting that the Gulf initiative included an article stipulating Saleh’s immunity, but it does not seem as though this would be agreed upon internationally as far as Al-Assad is concerned.
The UK participated with Yemen and Saudi Arabia to chair the “Friends of Yemen” meeting in New York on Thursday morning. The UK continues to play a key role in supporting President al-Hadi, in addition to promoting the success of the forthcoming Yemeni national dialogue conference. This conference is expected to be held before the end of year in order to reach agreements upon a series of issues, including a new constitution and an election law, in preparation for elections to be held in the country. There are concerns that Yemeni parties opposed to the current situation will boycott the national dialogue, which means that the meeting would not be a comprehensive means of resolving the country’s problems.
With regards to the steps that the international community can take to urge all Yemeni parties to participate, Burt said: “In the end, these are issues for the Yemeni people to decide, but what was clear in the Friends of Yemen meeting, and in previous meetings with the international community, was that many issues can materialize to obstruct the path and this could cause serious damage to the future of Yemen”. He added: “Any national dialogue requires compromise and requires that all parties sit down together at the table and put some issues aside. We support the President’s full commitment to the dialogue, and the international community says to the the concerned parties: put your issues aside and do not waste this opportunity.” Burt pointed out that “the support of the international community is very generous in terms of international aid”, which means that Yemen has the chance to shape a better future if a policy of developmental reform and a national project are adopted.
In the event of “saboteurs” emerging to destabilize the political process in the country, as they were described in the closing statement made by the Friends of Yemen, in an indirect reference to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Burt emphasized that the international community could resort to the Security Council to hold them to account. The international community has the ability to impose sanctions on individuals as a means of applying political and economic pressure on them.
It is clear that there has been international satisfaction towards the new Yemeni President during the UN General Assembly meetings, and particularly after his meeting with US President Barack Obama. Burt said: “President al-Hadi has shown leadership and a willingness to take his country forward”, referring to the steps that al-Hadi has embarked on so far, particularly the pursuit of al-Qaeda elements.