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

Photogallery Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had earlier warned storm could be one of worst the city has ever faced More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid