Cairo/Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Arab League and Qatar have formally requested a meeting with United Nations [UN] Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to ask for the Security Council’s “support” in dealing with the Syrian crisis. Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who heads the Arab League’s committee on Syria, wrote jointly to the UN chief setting out the plan for a political solution in Syria. The letter asks for a “joint meeting between them in the UN headquarters to inform the Security Council about developments and obtain the support of the Council for this plan”, according to the Arab League statement.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby met with the ambassadors of the five UN Security Council members in Cairo yesterday to inform them of the Arab League’s new initiative on Syria. The Arab League has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy, and then for a national unity government – including members of the opposition – to be formed within two months. Damascus swiftly rejected this proposal with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem telling a press conference that “definitely the solution is Syria is not the solution suggested by the Arab League, which we have rejected. They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis.” As for the issue of the Arab League heading to the UN in New York to seek support in dealing with the crisis that is taking place in Syria, Muallem said “they can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets, it is none of our concern.” He stressed “the solution is a Syrian one based on the interests of the Syrian people…based on the completion of the reform program proposed by President Bashar al-Assad.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian National Council [SNC] Executive Board member, Haitham al-Maleh described the Syrian foreign ministers comments as being “ridiculous” adding “Walid Muallem reminds me of the [former] Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf who continued to issue defiant and overblown statements until the last minute, despite the entry of US troops to Iraq. Now we see Walid Muallem, the Syrian spokesman, believing that he alone is right and the entire rest of the world is wrong. He accuses Arab States of treason, plays down the impact of the economic sanctions and the demands of the people for the fall of the regime”
Responding to the Arab League’s calls for dialogue, al-Maleh said that no honorable opposition figure would enter into talks with a criminal regime whose tanks and soldiers remain on the street. He added that he expected the al-Assad regime to collapse within one month, and that “we have confirmed information that a large number of Syrian army officers are on the verge of defecting from the regime.”
Whilst Free Syrian Army [FSA] spokesman Major Maher al-Naimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this statement [from Muallem] is a clear indication from the al-Assad regime regarding the escalation of its armed forces with regards to the suppression of the demonstrators and killing without reason. The best evidence of this is the attack that took place in Hama and Homs yesterday following Muallem’s statements.” He stressed “the FSA will remain on the defensive, and will protect the peaceful nature of the revolution, in order to show the world what crimes the al-Assad and his criminal gang is committing against the Syrian people.”
This comes at the same time that Syria has granted a month-long extension of the Arab League’s observer mission in the country. The mission, now extended until 23 February, is to verify Syria’s compliance with an earlier Arab League peace proposal.
Earlier on Tuesday, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] had taken the decision to pull out their monitors from the Arab League observer mission in line with the earlier decision taken by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission on Sunday following a statement by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal who announced “my country will withdraw its monitors because the Syrian government did not execute any of the elements of the Arab resolution plan.” He added “we are calling on the international community to bear its responsibility, and that includes our brothers in Islamic states and our friends in Russia, China, Europe and the United States.”
Speaking during a joint press conference with Arab League deputy chief Ahmed Bin Helli, Qatari envoy Saleh Abdullah al-Buainain said “we had hoped that all Arab states would participate in the work of the [observer] mission…but the Gulf States decided to withdraw its members from the observer delegation” however he confirmed that the GCC states would continue financially supporting the mission. He added “problems change daily, and the decisions also change in this regard.”
The Arab League held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Arab observer mission in Syria, and the withdrawal of Saudi Arabia and the GCC states from the observer mission. Iraqi envoy to the Arab League, Qais al-Azzawi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Arab League meeting was to “inform us of the withdrawal of the GCC observers from the observer mission…as well as to confirm the Gulf States commitment to all the decisions of the Arab League and everything that was put forward in the last Arab League ministerial meeting.”
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby also sent a message to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem informing him of the report of the Arab League observer mission, as well as his own political view of the situation in Syria. Elaraby called on Damascus to respond positively to the Arab League initiative and reach a national consensus to resolve the crisis taking place in the country, in order to ensure that Syria avoids any foreign intervention.
The Arab League also informed the Syrian opposition of the latest developments in its dealings with the crisis, and called on the Syrian opposition to prepare for a serious political dialogue with the government – under the auspices of the Arab League – to resolve the Syrian crisis.
However SNC-member Loai Safi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “nobody in the [Syrian] opposition believes that the Syrian regime has any genuine desire for dialogue, and everything that has been said over the past ten months of the revolution [by the government] has been part of a game to buy more time.”
He added “our only condition for accepting dialogue is for al-Assad to step down and hand over power to a transitional government, and for a transition to a democratic system.”
As for Walid Muallem’s statement, Safi described this as being “far from reality” and “the best evidence that the Syrian regime is in trouble” adding “the political and economic situation being experienced by the regime means that it has gone from bad to worse.”