Syria's efforts to reinvent itself have failed to impress major Western powers, which have sharpened their attack on the country's embattled President, Bashar al-Assad, after he successfully held a referendum calling for fundamental political change.
On Tuesday, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Syrian President, whose forces have been accused of using excessive force in a civilian enclave of the city of Homs, could be tried for war crimes. Testifying before a U.S. Senate sub-committee on the State Department's budget, Ms. Clinton said: “Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he [President Assad] would fit into that category.”
Other core members of the Western alliance, France and Britain, used equally strong language to disparage the Syrian President. Alain Juppe, Ms. Clinton's French counterpart, had already upped the ante by advocating on Monday that the Syrian regime should be hauled up before the International Criminal Court. Speaking in Parliament on the same day, British Foreign Secretary William Hague reminded lawmakers of the raft of European Union sanctions against Syria, which include a boycott of the Syrian Central Bank, a ban on EU cargo flights into Syria and a freeze on the assets of several high-ranking Syrian officials.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two Arab Gulf countries that are at the forefront of a virulent anti-Assad campaign, went a step ahead to advocate the arming of the Syrian opposition.
“I think we should do whatever is necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar's Prime Minister, on Monday during a visit to Norway. Applauding this proposal, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said arming the Syrian opposition was “an excellent idea”, as the anti-Assad forces, in his view, had to “defend themselves”.
In their verbal assaults against the Assad regime, his Western detractors seem to have completely ignored that Mr. Assad has successfully steered a national referendum on the adoption of a new Constitution that will end ruling Baath Party's monopoly on power. Syria's Interior Minister announced that 89 per cent of those who participated in Sunday's referendum had backed the new Constitution.
The referendum was fully backed by Russia, whose Foreign Ministry said it “has confirmed that the course for changes is supported by the people”.
Ahead of Sunday's vote, visiting Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhai Jun had supported the proposal of a referendum and the parliamentary elections that are expected to follow. Iran has also hailed the vote and denounced foreign interference in Syria's internal affairs.