With little to show in Syria, Arab League turns to UN

The Arab League wants to raise Syria's violent crisis at the United Nations – but it faces Russian reluctance.

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Frustrated by months of failed efforts to mediate an end to Syria's violent crisis on its own, the Arab League is turning to the United Nations for help.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requesting a meeting to discuss UN Security Council support for their peace plan, Reuters reports. The Arab League's various efforts to mediate in Syria, including a monitoring mission that has been abandoned by six member states, have had little impact.

On Sunday, the Arab League leaders presented a peace plan to Damascus that called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, transfer power to his deputy, and permit the formation of a unity government. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moualem responded that Syria rejected the plan and lambasted the league for "abandoning their role as the Arab League."

"We no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis," he said Tuesday, according to a separate Reuters report. "Heading to the Security Council will be the third stage in their plan, and the only thing left is the last step of internationalization.… They can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern."

The observer mission, sent to Syria to monitor its implementation of a peace plan agreed to in November, was controversial from the start because of its leader's poor human rights record and its tight control by the Syrian government, which largely prevented observers from interacting with the opposition. Yesterday the six Gulf states began removing their 55 observers, saying the mission had been ineffective. Violence has continued since their arrival, with dozens of deaths.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Syria agreed to extend the mission by another month. The observers who left will be replaced by additional observers from the countries still participating.

The UN Security Council has so far been blocked from taking strong action against Syria because of opposition from Russia, which holds a veto vote on the council and has remained a staunch defender of Syria, calling only for dialogue.

The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week that Moscow signed a contract to supply Syria with $550 million worth of warplanes, the latest in a series of gestures to show that it intends to "carry on business as usual" with Syria. 

On Tuesday, Mr. Moualem reminded the Arab League and international community that even though "half the universe is against us," Russia would never allow foreign intervention, Reuters reports. 

As the Monitor reported earlier this month, Russia's opposition to UN action has toughened since last spring, when it abstained from the vote on Libya so that authorization of intervention could pass. It has become more suspicious of Western intentions and more concerned about losing its most important Middle Eastern ally to regime change.

Recent protests have also hardened Moscow's resistance to interfering in another country's uprising – it is reluctant to set a precedent for interference in a country's internal affairs.

According to The New York Times, tensions were high at the UN on Tuesday, where US, British, and French diplomats criticized Russia for its arms deal with Syria. Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, called the move "irresponsible." The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, accused Western nations of seeking to use the demonstrators to bring to power a government more aligned with their interests.

The Arab League's call for Assad will put pressure on Russia to justify why it is still blocking UN action, Reuters notes. The Arab League's support for intervention in Libya was a critical factor in eroding Russian opposition to the NATO intervention there.

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