News / Middle East

Syrian VP's Remarks Suggest Regime in Dire Straits

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during interview with Russian Today, Damascus, Nov. 8, 2012.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during interview with Russian Today, Damascus, Nov. 8, 2012.
Syria's Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa is drawing attention for becoming the first senior Syrian official to publicly acknowledge that his government cannot win its battle against a 21-month rebellion.
 
His recent remarks to a Lebanese newspaper appear to reflect a government in dire straits as an international ground swell grows for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad while rebel forces continue to report gains, especially around the capital.

But the troubled Assad government seems not ready to give up, analysts say, and is depending on allies to pursue a diplomatic blueprint that allows the president stay in power.
 
As Western powers and other nations supporting the Syrian opposition demand that Assad leave office, his allies, Iran and Hezbollah, have been promoting Assad-friendly peace initiatives.
 
Pro-Assad forces have been under increasing strain in recent weeks as rebels seize territory near central Damascus, his seat of power.
 
Recognizing realities
 
In the interview, published this week by the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar, Sharaa said the Syrian crisis has hit a stalemate.
 
Sharaa said Syrian security forces cannot reach a "conclusive" result with the opposition. He also said rebels cannot overthrow the government militarily "unless they aim to pull [Syria] into chaos and unending violence."
 
Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa, Damascus, August 26, 2012.Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa, Damascus, August 26, 2012.
x
Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa, Damascus, August 26, 2012.
Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa, Damascus, August 26, 2012.
Sharaa, a Sunni, is not part of the inner circle of Assad, a minority Alawite who has been Syria's absolute ruler for 12 years.
 
But Sharaa's comments were republished in full by Syrian state news agency SANA, suggesting they likely had the president's approval.
 
Do Sharaa's remarks indicate that Assad has had a change of heart about how to end the fighting?
 
Tony Badran, a researcher at the New York-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, does not think so.
 
"If you parse through it, nothing in that interview actually is new in terms of policy," Badran said. "What it proposed was a dialogue with an unspecified counter-party, and it says nothing about the status of President Assad ... and the restructuring of [government] institutions and so on."
 
Restated proposals
 
Sharaa said any peace settlement must involve an internal Syrian dialogue that leads to the creation of a national unity government. He made no mention of rebel demands that Assad be removed from power before a transition begins.
 
Sharaa also said Syria's current leadership believes that it has the ability to achieve the change that Syrians want, provided that it has "new partners."
 
Other Syrian officials repeatedly have called on Syrian opposition groups to abandon violence and negotiate with the government.
 
Assad's only remaining regional allies have been promoting similar ideas in recent days. Badran said the Sharaa interview may have been timed to support those efforts.
 
Under a six-point plan announced by Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday, Syria would hold a national dialogue involving the Assad government as a first step toward elections.
 
"Iran's initiative does not stipulate anything about the departure of Assad," Badran said. "He stays in power, and most importantly for Iran, the strategic orientation of Syria [as an Iranian ally] remains the same."
 
The leader of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech on Sunday, calling on Syrian rebels and foreign powers supporting them to stop rejecting dialogue with the Assad government.
 
"Those who believe that the armed opposition is capable of deciding the battle militarily are extremely mistaken," he said.
 
Badran said Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar's publication of the Sharaa interview was not a coincidence. "Ibrahim Amin, the chief editor who conducted this interview, is a Hezbollah guy," he said.
 
Al Akhbar describes itself as an organization that upholds "the highest standards of journalistic integrity while remaining true to the principles of anti-imperialist struggle."
 
Signs of desperation
 
Syrian opposition figures see another motive for the vice president's remarks — desperation.
 
Syrian rebels have made a series of military gains this month, moving into the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus and seizing military bases around Aleppo.
 
The recently-formed opposition Syrian National Coalition also won recognition from more than 110 countries as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
 
Speaking to Al-Arabiyah television this week, Paris-based coalition member Mundhir Makhus said Sharaa's admission that government forces cannot win reflects what he called the "dazzling successes" of the rebels.
 
He also described Sharaa's peace proposals as too little, too late, saying they have been "overtaken" by developments that will "settle things."
 
Researcher Badran said he doubts the Sharaa remarks will have much effect.
 
"The rebels are not in any way interested in sitting down right now for an initiative that will just give the regime breathing space," he said.
 
Other analysts echo Western and NATO leaders in saying the end of Assad's rule is only a matter of time.
 
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, recently said the government has been losing military control of the Damascus environs.
 
Khashan said Syrian troops loyal to the regime have become fatigued, and that many troops are "no longer interested in fighting" and that the unending combat has started "getting to them."

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 20, 2012 1:14 AM
As we all know, or should know, wars are very detrimental to all, all become loosers. Getting rid of a very nasty dictatorship, is usually not negotiable; at the same time lines of communication, must be established with the regime to reduce suffering, and to achieve the required end state as promptly as possible. Potentially "Sharaa's comments" may be a signal, that elements in the Syrian regime, other than Assad, want to start negotiating a transition. Such negotiations are critical to ensure an orderly, as well as possible, transition. Military ops can continue while discussions take place. Winter is rapidly approaching, the sooner the conflict ends, the fewer will be the innocent victims of the conflict. It is clear that the Syrian military are seeing the light; unfortunately the Iranian proxi Hezbollah, and its master are continuing to push for a fight to the end; which is not in the best interest of both Syrian parties to the conflict. Dialogue does not exclude the continuation of military operations, until both parties agree to a cesssation of hostilities. The doors to dialogue, between the Syrian parties to the conflict, need to be opened.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid