U.N. Action Urged To End Bloodshed In Syria

Fighting in Syria has reached the suburbs of Damascus. At the same time, the U.N. Security Council is considering what to do. One proposal would demand that President Bashar Assad step down in the face of protests. Andrew Tabler, of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, talks to Steve Inskeep about the diplomatic maneuverings at the Security Council.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's ask next what the world may do, if anything, about the violence in Syria. Fighting has now reached the suburbs of Damascus, the capital. At the same time, the United Nations Security Council is considering what to do. One proposal would demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down in the face of protests. To talk about the diplomatic maneuvers we've brought in Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's in our studios.

Good morning.

ANDREW TABLER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. This resolution that they're now considering in the Security Council, what would it do if it was approved?

TABLER: The resolution enshrines the Arab League plan to end the crisis in Syria. So within two weeks President Assad would have to enter into dialogue with the opposition. But within two months you have to set up a national unity government. And during that time he would have to give over power and authority to his deputy, we think Farouk al-Shara, one of the vice presidents.

And then that national unity government would lead the way towards elections - free and fair elections in the country within months. All while the Mukhabarat, the secret service in the country, would be sort of restricted just to civil affairs. So it's a transition plan for President Assad to leave power peacefully.

INSKEEP: Which is a plan that he has already said he doesn't like and that even the members of the Security Council won't all accept at this point.

TABLER: That's right. He has rejected it out of hand, instead opting for what he calls the security solution. And the Russians on top of that say they're in favor of some kind of transition, not this plan certainly because they think that it's somehow - inside of it - there's a Trojan horse about military intervention. And this is because of their fears about what happened in Libya.

INSKEEP: And let's just remind people of the basics, here. Russia is on the Security Council. China is on the Security Council. They can veto any resolution and prevent the U.N. from doing anything.

TABLER: That's right. And that appears to be what they're going to do. They want all the Western countries, the Arab League, despite the fact that the Arab League working as a regional organization with Western countries, they would like all these organizations to pay it forward with the international community and say outright that they are not going to intervene militarily. But of course this is something that no one is going to say because diplomacy alone, talking to Bashar al-Assad to get him to stop the killing, hasn't worked for 10 months and they don't want to restrain themselves.

INSKEEP: Well, now that raises an interesting point. Suppose that the Russians and Chinese went along with this, that the U.N. passed this resolution, what on earth would make it more than words? What can the international community actually do in this situation?

TABLER: I think the - inside of the resolution itself there's an interesting clause. It says that in the event that President Assad does not comply with this agreement - and we most certainly know that he will not - the resolution points member states to the Arab League sanctions which were placed on Syria on November 24th. And then has these states look at them selectively and consider them for their own actions. So it makes sanctions on Syria, it blesses sanctions on Syria, it makes them nonbinding, but it gives them some teeth. And these sanctions would be the latest in a series of sanctions which began with the United States, now with the EU, and so on.

INSKEEP: Let's be frank. I mean, sanctions have an effect. Let's not say that they have no effect. But in plenty of countries we could name regimes have lasted for years under sanctions.

TABLER: That's right. It only effects Bashar's calculations and his strategic calculations. In the end, what is going to force him from power, so far it's not diplomacy, sanctions. And that's where many people now are beginning to talk about what kind of intervention in Syria could give Bashar al-Assad the kick out of power or, as President Obama said, to get him to step aside.

INSKEEP: Are the Russians on some level right in that if you're going to be serious about this ultimately there would have to be some kind of outside military intervention.

TABLER: I think that they look at Libya as the model. And I think Secretary Clinton was very clear in saying this is not Libya. And Syria certainly is not Libya. I think whatever kind of intervention you see in Syria is something that's going to be humanitarian in nature. It's not going to be an invasion. It's not going to be even necessarily something with missile strikes. It's going to be something that involves - two ideas out there. One is a buffer zone from Turkey, along the Turkish border with Syria. And the other one is a humanitarian corridor.

INSKEEP: In just a couple of seconds, is there any sign of a compromise that the U.N. actually could pass something here?

TABLER: No, not so far.

INSKEEP: OK. Mr. Tabler, very simple. Thanks very much.

TABLER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's also author of the book, "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria."

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