Britain presses Syria's Assad on promised reforms
A draft UN Security Council statement condemning Syria's use of violence has stalled, with China, Russia, and Lebanon opposing the initiative.
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As the international community considers its options for punishing the Syrian government, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said today that there is still time for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "do the right thing," ending the use of violence against protesters and implementing reforms.
However, the protesters – and increasingly, members of the international community – seem to think that point has passed. Al Jazeera reported that on Wednesday an umbrella group of activists issued a statement insisting on a democratic transition and said that if Mr. Assad does not want to be a part of the process, then "there is no alternative left for Syrians."
According to Syrian human rights organizations, more than 400 people have died since unrest began in the southern city of Deraa almost two months ago. The government has brutally put down the protests, and international condemnation has not lessened its resolve to hold on to power. More Syrian Army troops were sent into Deraa today after Monday's initial foray, and there were reports of gunfire, the Associated Press reports. Troops entered the Damascus suburb of Douma for the first time today as well.
But, Mr. Hague said, Assad is still at heart a reformer and could choose to make concessions to protesters' demands, the Guardian reported.
"President Assad has made two major speeches on reform in Syria — one of them was in the eyes of most of us too weak and the other one was too late but nevertheless he has made those speeches and committed himself to important reforms," said Hague. "It is not too late for him to say he really is going to do those reforms and additional reforms." …
"We will urge them to do the right thing. It is not too late for them to do so. They are being urged to do so by many other countries including in our own region and I appeal to them again to respect the legitimate grievances and not to engage in this repression and violence against their own people."
In an opinion piece for POLITICO, former State Department official Aaron David Miller argues that there is a "growing chorus" in Congress and elsewhere that Assad is not a reformer. He observes that the Obama camp is divided on how to proceed, and that the steps so far indicate more of a "whack-a-mole" approach than a coherent policy.