Syria highly critical of its Arab League suspension

Tue, Nov 15, 2011, 00:00

SYRIAN FOREIGN minister Walid Muallem has described the Arab League’s decision to suspend his country’s membership as a dangerous step for the organisation and future Arab action.

Mr Muallem was also critical of the call for sanctions and threatened referral to the UN Security Council. He reiterated Syria’s call for an Arab summit to consider these decisions – regarded by Damascus as illegal – taken by the foreign ministers last Saturday, even as one of Syria’s neighbours in the region, Jordan, called on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to stand down for the sake of his country.

Mr Muallem was supported by Russia, whose foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed in Moscow that western powers were supporting groups wishing to oust Dr Assad. He also claimed that arms were being smuggled from abroad to opposition groups in Syria.

“We believe it is wrong to suspend Syria’s membership of the Arab League. Those who made this decision have lost a very important opportunity to shift the situation into a more transparent channel,” said Mr Lavrov.

“There has been and continues to be incitement of radical opponents to take a firm course for regime change and reject any invitations to dialogue . . . Weapons are being delivered to Syria through contraband channels via Turkey, Iraq and other countries.”

Addressing a packed press conference in his elegant ministry in Damascus, Mr Muallem called for “dialogue held in an atmosphere of civil peace” and pledged to deal “with . . . friendly efforts which would activate dialogue and support the reform process”.

He insisted that the example of Libya, where the league approved foreign military intervention, should not be repeated in Syria and argued that there is no justification to adopt this course of action.

He argued that Syria would not abandon the Arab initiative. The Arabs, he said, could contribute to the solution but it must be essentially “a Syrian solution”.

Mr Muallem said that since “Syria agreed to the [November 2nd] Arab initiative”, the country has faced a hostile media campaign as well as an “escalation of armed operations on the ground”.

He accused the United States of provoking this escalation by warning armed elements against accepting the government’s amnesty and chided the league for failing to respond to the US declaration.

Speaking slowly, deliberately and calmly, he said: “We are determined to carry out the Arab work plan as it is in line with the plan of the Syrian leadership” for resolving the crisis.

He said the Arab road map must [involve] the monitoring of the borders by neighbouring countries to prevent weapons smuggling and to stop the financing of armed terrorist groups.

He praised Russia, India, Lebanon, South Africa and China for resisting western efforts to condemn Syria in the security council and said the crisis has reached the “beginning of the end”.

Russia has urged Dr Assad to accelerate reforms, while also vowing to oppose any outside interference in Syria’s affairs.

Moscow believes western states grossly misused a UN resolution to protect civilians in Libya by launching an extensive bombing campaign in support of rebels who overthrew Muammar Gadafy.

Russia has pledged not to abandon Syria, an old ally, and last month it joined China in blocking a draft resolution that urged it to halt a violent crackdown on protesters or face “targeted measures”. President Dmitry Medvedev complained that the draft resolution on Syria did not explicitly state that “there would be no military interference in that conflict from outside. This means only one thing: our partners in the UN Security Council do not rule out a replay of the Libyan scenario.”

Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill visited Syria over the weekend and called for a peaceful resolution to the country’s problems, while Dr Assad thanked “the Russian people and authorities who took the side of the Syrian people”.