Border tensions with Turkey rise; 190 killed on Thursday, al-Assad defiant, P5 + 4 to meet in Geneva on Saturday—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #57

On Thursday, the number of killed in Syria reached an all-time high for the year, at 190 dead, according to the New York Times:

Tallies by Syrian opposition groups that track casualties reported on Friday that the previous day’s death toll had reached 190 from violence in towns and cities throughout the country. The counts were detailed but could not be confirmed independently.

The largest number was concentrated in the Damascus suburb of Douma, an insurgent enclave about eight miles northwest of the capital, according to reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain, and the Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian-based group.

A spokesman for the Syrian Observatory said the death toll on Thursday was the worst of any single day this year, with 125 confirmed civilian fatalities as well as the deaths of 65 fighters reported but under investigation. The observatory considers a death confirmed when videotape or other documentary evidence identifying the victim is received.

The coordination committees, which uses similar methodology but acts independently, reported 139 civilian deaths on Thursday.

–Rod Norland and Rick Gladstone, “Syrian Groups Say Violent Day Left High Civilian Toll,” The New York Times, June 29. 2012.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in St. Petersburg to discuss Syria, on the eve of a conference to be attended by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) plus Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. The conference is to discuss plans for a transition in Syria put together by Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

See “Syria conflict: Russia-US still split ahead of talks; Areas of “difficulty and difference” remain between Russia and the US ahead of key talks on the crisis in Syria, a US official says,” BBC News, June 29, 2012.

Amid intensifying fighting on the ground in Syria, both Turkey and Syria were reportedly moving forces toward their border. The Turks were reported to be placing air defenses near the border, while easing the rules of engagement for the use of force by their military in response to provocations from Syria. Opposition sources reported the movement of Syrian forces to within 20 miles of the border, but were unclear as to their intentions.

See Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Antakya, Turkey/Reuters), “Turkey reinforces border: Assad’s helicopters hammer northern Syria (+video); Turkey reinforced its border with missile batteries Thursday. Syrian tanks massed 20 miles from the border with Turkey. Helicopters attacked Saraqeb, Syria,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2012.

Russia, after initially accepting a formulation by Kofi Annan that would in effect exclude al-Assad from a transitional government, reversed course. Differences were to be worked out in Clinton’s meeting with Lavrov in St. Petersburg Friday, but a meeting of the minds reportedly did not occur.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters reported,

Ahead of Saturday’s meeting, Russia proposed changes to Annan’s plan for a national unity government in Syria, despite initially supporting it, but the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments, Western diplomats said.

Russia and the other permanent U.N. Security Council members told Annan this week they supported a transitional cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would “exclude … those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation,” according to Annan’s proposal.

Diplomats told Reuters that Annan’s idea of excluding certain people was clearly referring to Assad.

Although Russia signaled to Annan this week that his plan was acceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reversed course on Thursday, diplomats said. Diplomats said the Russians demanded that Annan remove from his proposal the language about excluding people from a Syrian national unity government.

In Damascus, Bashar al-Assad defiantly asserted that no solution would be imposed by outside powers, friendly or not, and that he would “annihilate” the “terrorist” groups that were causing the civil strife in Syria.

See “Assad Rejects External Solution for Crisis,” BBC News, June 29, 2012.

Moscow probably does not have the leverage over al-Assad to force him to stand down immediately, though if they quit supplying him with weapons, intelligence and money, and joined the civilized countries of the world in imposing strict economic sanctions on Syria under a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, they could certainly speed his departure.

What may be required, however, as we suggested in April, is that al-Assad will have to be taken down like a mad dog.  That will require military intervention, with or without Security Council authorization.

As for Kofi Annan and his conference, reports of the reversal of the Russian position regarding a fundamental point, which was a precondition for attendance at the conference, confirm that Russia cannot be trusted, and/or that Annan cannot shoot straight when trying to pull off one of his mediation initiatives. His mission should be ended at the earliest opportunity.

Instead of passing messages through Annan, who obviously has a large ego investment in the success of his mediation and has also shown himself to be pliant to Russian demands, the United States and Russia would do better to set up a small working group of their own within the framework of the Security Council, where representatives of the two countries can deal directly with each other.

Annan is quoted in the media as saying that he is “optimistic” that the talks on Saturday at the conference will produce a “satisfactory outcome”. For Kofi Annan, it seems that almost any outcome would be “satisfactory” as long as it kept him and his mediation operation in business.

What Syria needs, however, is an outcome that is “satisfactory” because it stops the atrocities.

The Trenchant Observer

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