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Assad's speech may buy time, but not survival

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave his first speech in two months today, offering elections and reforms this summer in an apparent bid to secure the patience of Syria's silent majority.

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After receiving heavy criticism for his initial speech, a more somber president announced on April 16 the lifting of the state of emergency law that grants the regime sweeping security powers.

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But by then, the protest movement had spread across the country and the demands of the opposition had escalated.

Many analysts believe that it is too late for Assad – whose credibility as a would-be reformer is fast dwindling – to usher in a reform program to satisfy the opposition, and doubt that the regime has the will to do so anyway.

“The regime will fight it out, and the opposition will keep protesting,” says Mr. Tabler. “The opposition knows if it stops they will have no leverage against the regime.”

EU ministers move to expand sanctions against Syria

The international community has been slow to react to the violence in Syria beyond issuing statements demanding immediate reforms from Assad.

With NATO engaged in prolonged Libya campaign to protect civilians from Qaddafi's regime, there is little appetite to embark upon another military commitment in the Middle East. Given Syria’s geographic location and the regime’s network of alliances and relationships with states and militant groups, turmoil in Syria, unlike Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and even Egypt, could greatly destabilize the broader Middle East.

The United Nations Security Council has failed so far to even agree on a sternly worded resolution condemning Syria’s suppression of the uprising, largely due to the opposition of Russia and China. Both countries have strong commercial – and in Russia’s case military – ties to Syria that could be jeopardized if the regime collapses.

Russia operates a naval base at Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast that is currently being modernized and expanded to turn it into Moscow's main naval base in the Mediterranean capable of serving guided missile destroyers and even aircraft carriers. The first stage of the development project is supposed to completed next year.

In frustration at the opposition mounted by Russia and China at the UN, European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday agreed on a draft resolution to expand sanctions against Syria. The EU is looking to add companies and individuals to a list of 23 people subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

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