News / Middle East

US, Arab League Face Russian Opposition on Syria

The Obama administration is joining the Arab League in pushing for U.N. action to end months of political violence in Syria by calling on President Bashar al-Assad to give up power. Syria is counting on Russia to block U.N. moves that Damascus says could be a pretense to military action.

With Gulf-state observers leaving the Arab League mission in Syria, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem accuses the league of paving the way for foreign military intervention with its call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

"The solution for Syria is definitely not the solution from the Arab League, and we refuse," said al-Moualem.

President Barack Obama made clear in his State of the Union address Tuesday that it is time for President Assad to go, just as popular revolts ousted dictators in Libya and Egypt last year.

"And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can't be reversed, and that human dignity can't be denied," said Obama.

The top American diplomat for human rights, Michael Posner, said Thursday in Cairo that Washington counts on the Arab League, and the United Nations, to help bring change in Syria.

"We are desirous of working in partnership with them, and there is certainly a hope and expectation that we can proceed to the U.N. Security Council soon for the issue to be raised,'' said Posner.

But Steve Heydemann, a senior Middle East advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the Arab League's consensus could crumble, leaving the U.S. trying to figure out what options come next.

"Those are very interesting questions, and they have very important implications for the United States because we have relied on the Arab League to be out front on Syria because it gives us a great deal of cover for taking assertive steps against the regime of Bashar al-Assad that might otherwise be seen as Western and American meddling in Syrian affairs," said Heydemann.

At the U.N., however, options may be limited. Russia has made clear it will not approve any U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes force or sanctions.

U.S. officials say talks between U.S. and Russian diplomats in Moscow have made progress in resolving some of the differences about how the international community should best move forward on Syria. Action at the U.N. now appears to depend on convincing Russia and China that a change of government in Damascus will not undermine their position in the Middle East.

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