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'Coordinated Response' Needed To Syria's Crackdown

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'Coordinated Response' Needed To Syria's Crackdown

Middle East

'Coordinated Response' Needed To Syria's Crackdown

'Coordinated Response' Needed To Syria's Crackdown

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The U.S. government has criticized Syria for its violent crackdown on protesters. But so far, the U.S. has not done much more than that. Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Edward Djerejian talks to Steve Inskeep about U.S. policy towards Syria.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The U.S. government has criticized Syria for its violent crackdown on protestors, but so far the United States has done not much more than criticize. Edward Djerejian argues that we really can't. He was U.S. ambassador to Syria under President Reagan and the first President Bush. And he says the U.S. has fewer connections to Syria than other Arab nations.

Mr. EDWARD DJEREJIAN (Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria): We don't have that much leverage. This is not a crisis that we can manage effectively from Washington. We have had Syria under a number of sanctions and we're considering more sanctions. We have tried to engage the Syrian leadership in a constructive dialogue. But that has really not gone far at all, unfortunately.

INSKEEP: What if you were working in the White House and you decided that you needed - it was in the U.S. national interest - that you needed to influence this situation in a certain way? Are there any other tools that you could reach for? More public demands by the president of the United States, seeking action at the United Nations? Any sort of thing?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Well, I think certainly the bully pulpit of the White House can be effective. But I think in terms of Syria, we would be more effective if we were able to get key allies to join in a coordinated response to the regime's use of force to confront the popular protests and uprisings in Syria.

I would be urging Washington to collaborate very closely with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, because there is still a relationship there between Turkey and Syria that is listened to.

I would certainly collaborate very closely with our European allies - the French, who have had a historic interest in Syria and Lebanon. But having said that, that's also very limited, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is there any country that serves as something of a patron of Syria that does give them substantial aid or some - has some kind of relationship that the Syrians would not want to damage too much?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: There is one country, but it's unfortunately a country that is one of our...

INSKEEP: Oh, I know what you're going to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DJEREJIAN: And that is Iran. And when I was the American ambassador to Damascus, when President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president was in power, Hafez al-Assad was managing the Syrian-Iranian relationship. I've gotten the clear impression that it's the other way around now. The Iranian influence had grown in a way that did not exist under his father.

And the other fault line Steve, that I must mention is that this young president, Bashar al-Assad, when he came into power in 2000, he came in with the aura of being the reformist; young, Western educated. There was an expectation that he would institute reforms, political, economic, social reforms. He has not lived up to the anticipations of the people.

INSKEEP: Given that he did seem like someone who was open to Western thought, were you, as so many others were, surprised that he has gone to such extremes to maintain power?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: I'm not surprised because I knew that he would be torn between two conflicting schools of thought within his regime. One is the moneyed elite that has benefited from this regime, they are advising him that if you give an inch you're going to lose your whole arm, and don't cede, hang tough. There's an...

INSKEEP: And what they really mean is, if you give an inch we're going to lose our arms. That's what they're really telling him.

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Exactly. Exactly. And this regime, at least, is keeping a multi-confessional country together. And the fear in the population is that if the regime collapses, Syria may experience what Lebanon did in civil war and Iraq did during the sectarian violence in Iraq.

The other school of thought on him is that do - do institute reforms. Do move forward. We really don't have a choice. So I think he's been torn from the very beginning between these two conflicting schools of thought and he's been ambiguous.

INSKEEP: Should that fear, is it a great enough fear really, that it should guide U.S. policy or U.S. caution here?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Well, it's not in the national security interest of the United States for there to be chaos and sectarian strife in Syria. We have too many equities: Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq. That's why I think the administration has been urging him to move forward with reforms; get ahead of his curve. But we've seen very disappointing results in that. And again, this is something we cannot manage what decisions he and his regime are going to make. But we're going to have to try to manage the consequences if things go asunder.

INSKEEP: Edward Djerejian is a former U.S. ambassador to Syria.

Thanks very much for your time.

Mr. DJEREJIAN: My pleasure to be with you, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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