U.S. Ambassador: “Syria Must Not Look To Outsiders To Solve Its Problem”
United States ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, a career diplomat and Arabist, spoke in a phone interview for Time about the situation in Syria and warned that there is little chance that it became a civil war like the one that led to the ouster of the Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The ambassador said that the protest in Syria is mostly peaceful, but that it could turn violent and become a sectarian rebellion only if the regime in Damascus continues its violent crackdown on the people.
Some protestors, he added, have armed themselves in order to defend their lives and their families, and in the process there is shooting of the protestors against the security forces, which have killed at least 2,700 people according to reports, and have detained some 20,000 people.
Ford considers that the longer the crackdown continues the higher the chances are that in the end an all-out violent conflict be triggered between the Sunni Muslim majority in the country and the Alawite sect that is in power in Syria, to which pertain the presidential family and the leaders of the army and security forces.
As Bashar al-Assad’s troops bring back armored vehicles in the streets of the large cities and shoot people without any restraint, the Syrian population demands international protection.
Syrians are divided even about this, as they are divided about creating a strong political opposition, as they have been kept divided by the regime for over four decades.
Therefore, they have more than one proposition about a foreign intervention in their country. Some want the NATO troops to just invade Syria and remove Assad’s family from power, while others favor the idea of creating a hub at the Syrian-Turkish border, something like Benghazi in Libya, where the national council founded in Turkey may organize the opposition to topple the regime.
The American ambassador said he had told the Syrians that they would not be treated the same way the Libyans were treated. He advised the Syrian opposition leaders to “win away support from the regime” and not to expect outsiders to solve their problem. He added that “this is a Syrian problem and needs Syrian solutions.”
The first solution he offered was the unification of the opposition in Syria by accepting the authority of the Syrian National Council created in Istanbul a few weeks back in the likeness of the National Transitional Council in Benghazi.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria agreed last week to offer SNC their support in spite of the way it was created and the interests it represents. Last Thursday, the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, an organization fighting in the streets of the country against the regime, announced its support for the SNC.
There are still things that need to work out so that the council may receive a broader representation. For instance some organizations are not happy with the large number of Islamists present. The way the SNC members are being appointed is another matter that requires attention.
Another thing that must be taken into account in taking support away from the regime is the number of defectors from the Syrian army. As the bloody crackdown continues, many people in the army decide to defect rather than be part of the attack on the population.
It is considered that though they have grown significantly in numbers their ranks are too low to influence a major turn against the incumbent president.
Turkey announced a few days ago that it has seized a Syrian-flagged vessel and announced that no other such ships would go unchecked. They announced an embargo on arms against Syria, and specified that no one will smuggle weapons for the regime of al-Assad on their watch.
Turkey assumed the role of mediation of the conflict by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, said last week, before embarking for the UN General Assembly in New York, that Assad lied to him and he could not be trusted anymore.
The Turkish official added that no one sees Assad anymore as the person who is capable of leading his people through the transitional period that must follow these events.11