The United States has laid bare its intent to go all out in seeking the exit of the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, despite solid resistance from Russia which says Washington must respect the principle of sovereignty.
Both the U.S. and Russia are set for a high-octane clash later on Tuesday at the United Nations Security Council where an Arab League plan is slated for discussion. The plan, which has assumed the form of a European-Arab resolution, demands that President Assad yield power to the Vice-President. The draft then calls for the formation of a national unity government that would steer the transition to democracy.
Aware of the opposition from Russia and China — both veto-holding members — the U.S. has stepped up its diplomatic campaign to remove Mr. Assad by several notches. To add considerable weight to the upcoming resolution, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decided to lead the American delegation. Foreign Ministers of France and Britain will also accompany her, signalling to the rest of the world that the core of the Atlantic alliance is united in seeking an end to the Assad regime.
In a direct psychological assault on those unyielding to the West-backed proposal, White House spokesman Jim Carney said support for Mr. Assad was futile. “Assad's fall is inevitable,” Mr. Carney said during a media briefing. “As governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what steps need to be taken with regards to brutality of Assad's regime, it's important to calculate into your consideration the fact that he will go. The regime has lost control of the country and he will eventually fall.”
The Russians, on their part, are dismissive of the American view that they are on the wrong side of history. On the contrary, they accuse the West of pursuing a cynical regime-change agenda under the garb of democracy and human rights — a charge that has been oft repeated after the killing of the former Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi.
Following their negative experience on Libya, where the Russian and Chinese abstentions at the U.N. permitted the launch of a fatal NATO air campaign, Moscow appears determined not to endorse a similar move. On Friday, Gennady Gatilov, a Deputy Foreign Minister, said Russia would reject any call seeking Mr. Assad's resignation. Analysts say Moscow can also be expected to find fault with any language in the draft that suggests adoption of punitive measures against the Syrian regime if it did not comply with the listed demands.
Trying to find a third way, which holds the promise of a smooth political transition, without uprooting the principle of sovereignty, Russia has invited members of the Syrian regime and the opposition to Moscow for unconditional talks. The opposition has rejected the offer, which the Syrian government had swiftly accepted. “The resignation of Assad is the condition for any negotiation on the transition to a democratic government in Syria,” said Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council.
Apart from Western support, the opposition appears upbeat on account of its seemingly successful military forays on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian forces, moving heavy equipment, have now re-taken the areas on the Syrian capital's edge from the opposition forces.
However, the irregular forces of the anti-regime Free Syrian Army say that, committed to guerilla warfare, they staged a tactical withdrawal after demonstrating that Damascus was no longer impregnable.
Painting an entirely opposite picture, the government claimed it had successfully routed the “terrorists”. It also scoffed at Western assertions that the regime was doomed. “Syria, which is defending itself today against terrorism and will continue to do so, will be the exception which ... will foil the policies of chaos adopted by these [Western] countries,” said the state-news agency quoting a Foreign Ministry source.