Friends of Syria remain divided | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 25.02.2012
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Middle East

Friends of Syria remain divided

At the end of the conference of the Friends of Syria in Tunis, the international community presented a united front, but the final declaration of more than 60 states was based on only minimal consensus.

At the end of the half-day conference of the Friends of Syria on Friday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam announced stricter sanctions against the government of Bashar al-Assad, but no military intervention.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives at her hotel in Tunis

US Secretary of State Clinton said the conference was a success

Representatives of the international community their unity, but what Abdessalam and his US counterpart Hillary Clinton presented as a great success did not go far enough for many participating states. On the sidelines of the conference, it was obvious that the international community still had quite a few points of disagreement.

Arab peacekeeping force?

In particular, the question of military intervention sparked heated debates.

"We are opposed to arming the opposition, but we could imagine a peacekeeping force of the Arab League," Adnen Mnasser, spokesman of the Tunisian president told DW.

Mnasser stressed, however, that the deployment of a peacekeeping force would have to remain an internal decision for Arab states to make, and that Syria's neighboring countries should not participate in the mission to prevent the conflict from spreading.

The Qatari government is open to such a solution. Only Saudi Arabia called for the direct arming of the Syrian opposition from abroad.

"A political solution is a clear objective of the conference," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, stressing however, that a political solution would be possible only if the Assad regime stopped the violence.

"Assad's days are numbered," the Germany minister said.

Westerwelle's French counterpart, Alain Juppe, did not want to rule out completely a military solution, although he said any such move be possible only under a UN mandate.

Demonstrators protesting during the conference

Several hundred protestors accused the West of meddling in Syria's own business

Half-hearted recognition

Syrian President Bashar Assad meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Best of friends? Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov and Syrian President Assad

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki called for a Yemen-style deal in the Syrian conflict that would grant immunity and exile in Russia to Assad and members of his circle. This would make it possible for the Syrian president to leave without completely losing his face. At the same time, this could be a way for the international community to get Russia back on board. Moscow as well as Beijing - two of Syria's most important supporters - did not take part in the conference.

The Syrian National Council did not get the recognition from the conference it had hoped it would. The newly formed Syria Contact Group declared unanimously that the National Council was a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but not the only one.

"The fact that the National Council got a chance to speak here was an important signal of support, but also a signal to the opposition to unite," Westerwelle said, carefully hinting that for him, like for many European representatives, religious minorities such as Christians and the Druze were not sufficiently represented in National Council.

Symbolic conference

Damaged houses in the city of Homs

Assad's troops have been shelling a rebel stronghold of Homs for weeks

Abdullah Tourkmani of the Syrian National Council in Tunisia told DW that the National Council represented all groups of the Syrian people.

"As representatives of the Syrian people, we are just an interim solution," he said. "We are striving for democratic elections so that the Syrians can freely decide who should represent their interests."

The choice of holding this conference in Tunisia, where the Arab spring began about a year ago, was mainly symbolic. It shows that the international community is trying to get as many Arab states on board as possible in order to avoid the charge that it is turning Syria, which is on the brink of civil war, into a second Iraq.

"We must not forget what happened there, and should therefore find a peaceful solution," Mnasser said as a few hundred Tunisians and Syrians protested against a joint foreign intervention.

They demonstrators accused the United States and the Gulf States of primarily pursuing their own geopolitical interests in the region, and Tunisia of aiding those interests by hosting the conference.

The protest was violently dispersed by the Tunisian police after demonstrators stormed the conference grounds.

Author: Sarah Mersch / tt
Editor: Sean Sinico

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