by Stephen Lendman
After months of internal wrangling, Security Council members unanimously endorsed efforts to end Syrian violence. Or did they? More on that below.
Presidential statements are non-binding. However, with vague language, they risk potential slippery slope trouble. More on that below as well.
Media reports called unanimity a setback for Assad. The statement's also characterized as "Western."
Hillary Clinton called it "a positive step. The council has now spoken with one voice." She also said Washington is working with Syria's opposition "to strengthen its preparation to participate in the Syrian-led transition process that the Council has endorsed." By any other name, she means regime change.
That alone suggests softened Russian support for Syria, or perhaps something else went on privately to cut an imperfect deal unlikely to end conflict. A greater one may follow, but only the fullness of time will tell.
Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin said:
"We are very pleased. The Security Council has finally chosen to take a pragmatic look at the situation in Syria."
Russia and China won concessions, but not enough. Interviewed on Kommersant FM radio, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments left unanswered questions. He said:
"It is true that some people have taken up arms to defend their homes and families, but that's not the whole story."
He also described a plot to replace Assad with a Western/Saudi/Qatar-backed Sunni regime. In addition, he criticized Assad, saying:
"We absolutely do not justify the Syrian leadership. We consider that (it) reacted incorrectly to the rise of nonviolent protest, that despite the promises that were made in response to our numerous appeals, they are making many mistakes, and those steps being made in the proper direction are happening late."
He suggested a transition similar to how Yemen replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh with Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi but left the regime in power. It's hard imagining why he believes changing names and faces suggests new policies differing from current ones.
He left Syria's new Constitution unaddressed. It constitutes a roadmap for change. It lets Syrians, not other nations, decide. In previous comments, Lavrov strongly endorsed the process. He did again to avoid Western-style regime change.
Russia's got good reason to worry. Besides strategically important Syrian interests, Washington's Ukraine and Georgia color revolutions put pro-Western regimes on its borders. Putin especially fears Moscow may be next. His concerns are well justified.
Washington wants unchallenged global dominance. Achieving it requires client states replacing independent ones. Russia and China are ultimate targets. Moscow is Washington's main military rival. Between them, they control about 97% of the world's nuclear arsenal with sophisticated delivery systems able to target strategic global sites.
China's an economic powerhouse. It also has significant military strength, including hundreds of nuclear warheads, sophisticated delivery systems, and other strategic weapons. Beijing and Moscow both are justifiably wary of America's belligerence, its quest for global dominance, and schemes to control or eliminate potential rivals - by any means, including war.
It's perhaps why Lavrov told Kommersant radio:
"Neither the UN, nor any other body or group of countries have the right to decide who should and who should not govern a sovereign state. The eventually inevitable departure of Mr. Assad should not look like a regime change."
On the one hand, Lavrov sees Assad's departure as certain. On the other, it's for Syrians to decide either way and who replaces him if he leaves. Under international law, it's their right. Perhaps they'll get it under new constitutional provisions. They provide a framework for change, but the fullness of time alone will determine how and what follows.
On March 21, Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, endorsed Assad as Syria's legitimate leader. He also stressed Russia's commitment to end violence, as well as restore and preserve security and order. In addition, he deplored opposition violence without calling it Western-backed.
Moscow also got a Security Council press statement. It condemned last weekend's Damascus and Aleppo bombings "in the strongest terms." Calling them "terrorism," it stopped short of blaming responsible Western-backed killer gangs.
Russia and China yielded. Both know Assad's more victim than villain. Yet they gave more than they got. At issue is why?
Flawed Security Council Presidential Statement
It's both flawed and worrisome. Though non-binding, it potentially facilitates what Russia and China fear. Washington's longstanding policy wants pro-Western leadership replacing Assad. All means will be employed to achieve it, including war.
The statement doesn't explicitly endorse Assad stepping down. However, it tacitly backs a process for achieving it, saying:
"The Security Council expresses its full support for the efforts of the Envoy (Annan) to bring an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, secure humanitarian access, and facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system...."
It supports Kofi Annan's six-point plan. Like current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he's a longstanding imperial tool appointed at the behest of Washington to advance a pro-Western agenda smoothed with diplomatic language appearing even-handed.
Assad's right saying "no political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability." Yet Russia and China agreed with SC language calling on Syria to:
"immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres."
Assad "should work with (Annan) to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism."
"Similar commitments" are also sought from opposition elements, but only after Syria first initiates them. In other words, killer gangs may continue in the interim committing what Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned.
In a March 19 open letter, HRW explicitly explained opposition terrorism, including targeted killings, summary executions, kidnappings for ransom, torture, hostage taking, and other violent crimes.
Assad confronted them. It's his job. Ceasing may facilitate what he, Russia and China deplore - greater conflict producing Western-engineered regime change. It's planned. The March 21 SC statement doesn't deter it.
It wants "the Syrian Government and opposition to work in good faith to implement 'fully and immediately' (Annan's) six-point proposal (and to) commence a political dialogue" to do so.
With Western backing, the foreign-based Syrian National Council (SNC) involved in violence refuses. The nonviolent internally-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB) is willing.
The SC statement also calls for "ensur(ing) timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting...."
At issue is how. On March 22, The National headlined, "Turkey readies Syrian buffer zone plan," saying:
Ankara "discretely" began "preparations for a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border between the two countries amid fears that hundreds of thousands could flee the fighting...."
An unnamed official said "about 500 specialized soldiers" began inspecting border areas. Military options are considered. Turkey's media reported similar plans.
According to Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies analyst Veysel Ayhan, preparations show Turkey wants to be ready for an emergency refugee flood. He believes international efforts will be involved.
On March 19, Turkey's Today's Zaman headlined, "No decision yet on buffer zone in Syria, says Turkey." It quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying:
"There are....considerations about creating a buffer zone and a safe zone. We are evaluating alternatives," but no decisions have been made.
Buffer (safe) zones replicate no-fly ones. They require humanitarian corridors, easier access for foreign-supplied weapons, and military protection. It includes air support targeting Syrian defenses, as well as command and control sites.
Doing so means NATO's involvement in war. It's precisely what Russia and China oppose. Yet endorsing the SC statement may precipitate it.
It's more likely given the statement's final comment, saying:
"The Security Council requests (Annan) to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate."
Emphasis is on undefined "further steps." It suggests wiggle room enough to wage war. Expect it because:
(a) Washington wants regime change by any means;
(b) the road to Tehran runs through Damascus;
(c) weapons will keep flowing to Western-backed killer gangs; who'll stop them?
(d) violence will continue;
(e) Assad must confront it; it's his job; failure is dereliction of duty; all governments are required to protect their people;
(f) for doing so, he'll be blamed for disobeying the SC.
"Further steps" will follow. It's easy imagining which ones. Blame Russia and China for allowing what they oppose. If Assad falls, Iran's next and may be targeted at the same time.
Washington plans clean sweep regional regime change. Syria, Iran, Lebanon's Hezbollah, and perhaps Hamas are targeted. Imagine what's ahead to achieve it.
A decade of war perhaps was prelude for potential armageddon. Nuclear weapons may target Iran's underground facilities. Retaliation will follow. Expect Russia and China to intervene.
What cooler heads fear now threatens. America's war lobby spurns peace. What potentially follows is chilling. TS Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" ends, saying:
"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."
He likely got it wrong, and it's the other way around.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.