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Why Europe is pushing for sanctions on Syria – not intervention

Alistair Burt, a top British parliamentarian whose portfolio includes the Middle East and N. Africa, explains how Britain's response to the Arab Spring has been 'heavily influenced' by the Iraq war.

By Staff writer / September 29, 2011

The Security Council meets during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Monday.

Seth Wenig/AP


Cambridge, Mass.

European powers are looking to boost the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime but are struggling to overcome Russian resistance at the United Nations Security Council, where a new draft resolution is under review today.

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After more than six months of persistent streets protests, and a violent government response that has left an estimated 2,700 Syrians dead, diplomats say there is little prospect of military intervention similar to that approved in Libya earlier this year – even if the situation on the ground is fairly similar.

“Is what’s happening on the streets of Syria equivalent to what happened in Libya? Pretty well, yes,” said Alistair Burt, the British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. “Are we more powerless to do anything about it? Yes, we don’t have the leverage.”

Why military intervention isn't seen as an option in Syria

The differences between Libya and Syria are manifest, including the fact that there is little appetite for military intervention to propel the toppling of Mr. Assad, said Mr. Burt, speaking this week at Harvard’s Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass.

The Arab League stood against Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s rule, when the former Libyan strongman vowed to hunt opponents “street by street, house by house,” which helped galvanize the UN Security Council to act last March without a veto from Russia or China.

Still, none of the Arab Spring revolutions are the same, which have succeeded so far in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and are under way in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.

“In Syria, the Arab community has been much more conflicted, they have much closer relationships with the Assad regime, they have not been prepared to take the same actions, and Russia has made it very clear it will veto any action,” said Burt, a long-time parliamentarian whose current portfolio includes the Middle East and North Africa.


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