As Assad talks war, US and UN talk peace
Rapid deterioration of the situation in Syria has given world leaders a sense of urgency, but they seem no closer to finding common ground.
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Middle East Editor
Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog.
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World leaders are scrabbling for purchase, calling an emergency meeting in Geneva as the Syrian conflict descends into a full-fledged war. With President Bashar al-Assad's pronouncement two days ago that the conflict is now a war, it seems any modicum of restraint is likely over.
The United Nations Security Council (the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China) and Turkey will gather in Geneva this weekend for a meeting to discuss a plan for an interim government in Syria that was hastily announced late yesterday by UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.
Human rights monitors say that the past week has been the bloodiest in the 16-month uprising-turned-civil-war. Almost 160 were killed yesterday alone, according to Agence France-Presse.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to the meeting after speaking with Mr. Annan about his plan and determining that it provided a good foundation for talks, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to CNN. Negotiations have so far mostly ended in deadlock between Russia and the US, Britain, and France (with China following Russia's lead). A peace plan crafted by Annan earlier this year has been left in shreds.
Ms. Nuland would not disclose any details about the negotiations or address whether Russia has softened its opposition to either a political transition directed by outside powers or further action against the Assad regime. She said only that "our litmus test for whether we thought this meeting should go forward, as we've been saying for many days now, was that we expected we could make concrete progress," according to CNN.
Ms. Clinton will travel to Russia tomorrow to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two countries have been on opposing sides on just about every element of an international response to Syria's uprising. To Washington's consternation, Moscow has continued its arms sales to Syria, defending them as being based on pre-existing contracts and/or only for defensive purposes.
The two most recently clashed over the list of countries invited to the Geneva meeting. Russia wanted Iran, a key ally of Assad, in attendance, which the US rejected. Saudi Arabia, whose presence was desired by the US, seems to have been left out in a concession to Russia, who has insisted in equanimity in negotiations. As the logic goes, if Iran is to be excluded by the US for backing Assad, then Saudi Arabia, which has been widely accused of arming the rebel forces, should also be left out.