Stop the Killing, Mr. Putin / A new French push on Syria (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) AMIR TAHERI 06/01/12)
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With freshly re-elected Vladimir Putin due in Paris today for a
summit with new French President Francois Hollande, the Russian media
have been talking up the idea of a new Paris-Moscow axis. In fact,
Putin is likely to hear a very different message.
French sources say Hollande has no interest in any “grand gesture,”
especially in the face of parliamentary elections that will determine
the strength of his hold on power. Instead, he’ll press Putin on
The new French administration has already sharpened the tone set by
former President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Bashar al-Assad is the murderer of
his people,” says the new foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. “He
should leave power; and the sooner the better.”
Hollande has gone further, stating that “the military option” can’t
be ruled out.
And it was his behind-the-scenes lobbying that prompted the major
Western powers to expel Syrian diplomats this week — a move followed
by 12 other nations, including Japan, Australia and Turkey.
France will also host a Friends of Syria conference in the next few
weeks, with representatives of 76 countries, including every member
of the Arab League (except Lebanon, with its complex relation with
the Syrian regime). The French hope that Russia will join; if it
does, China will be knocking on the door for an invitation.
France has also resumed “consultations” with Turkey on future joint
moves on Syria, ending a year-long hiatus (prompted by Turkish anger
at Sarkozy’s support for a law banning the denial of the
Armenian “holocaust”). Fabius thinks Turkey could and should lead
international initiatives aimed at Syrian regime change.
One key French demand of Putin: Stop arms shipments to Assad, which
violate a UN Security Council resolution passed with support from
both Moscow and Beijing.
The French claim to have “a mass of evidence” that Russia has been
smuggling arms to Syria via the port of Banias as late as a week ago.
Putin may be invited to examine part of the evidence while he’s in
France also has evidence showing Iran’s “active military presence” on
Assad’s side — including a recording of comments by the deputy
commander of the Qods Force, Gen. Esmail Qa’ani. (The Qods Force is
the special unit that Iran uses for operations in the region,
including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.)
In the recording, Qa’ani talks of “the effective presence of the Qods
Force in Syria.”
“Before we deployed to Syria, the opposition was killing many
people,” he claims on the recording. “But, thanks to the physical
presence of the Islamic Republic forces, such large-scale killings
Also aiding Assad is Venezuela, an ally of Iran — by shipping fuel
for the Syrian war machine. On Monday, a Venezuelan tanker delivered
supplies of diesel for Assad’s tanks and armored vehicles of the kind
used in the recent massacre at Howlah.
The French hope to persuade Putin to reconsider his policy on Syria
and help forge an international accord for a peaceful transition in
Damascus. The current Kremlin policy puts Russia on the side of a
club of rogue powers engaged in massacring the people of Syria.
Yet, despite much optimism in Paris, Hollande’s chances of persuading
Putin remain slim.
The Russian has a score to settle with the Sunni Arab powers that, he
claims, helped Islamist rebels in Chechnya for more than a decade. He
also worries that the loss of Assad, Moscow’s last ally in the
Mediterranean, could shut Russia out of a waterway crucial for its
position as a maritime power.
Despite all that, the French hope that Assad’s diminishing prospects
will persuade the Kremlin to abandon a sinking ship.
“Assad will go,” says Bernard Guetta, a leading French analyst of
international affairs. “The international community should work to
make sure that happens sooner rather than later.”
In recent days, Russian spokesmen have been harping on a new theme,
by which Moscow isn’t backing Assad but merely trying to save
international law. That, the French hope, might indicate that Russian
backing for Assad may not be as solid as generally assumed.
(Copyright 2012 NYP Holdings, Inc. 06/01/12)
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