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Did anyone look forward with keen anticipation to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s speech yesterday? It’s highly unlikely. Because, after 21 months of an uprising which is still going strong, and which killed more than 60,000 people according to UN estimates, he wasn’t expected to make speeches, but cede power to make way for peace. But he did exactly the opposite – which was to announce that he had no intention of leaving.
He made no hint that he is willing to cede power, and made it abundantly clear that he was not prepared to negotiate either with the exiled opposition factions or the rebels fighting on the ground, whom he called as Islamic radicals supportive of Al Qaeda and Western countries.
Assad appeared in public yesterday after several months, and proposed an action plan for peace which not only offered nothing new, but served to rub salt into the crisis. The first step for a solution, he said, was for foreign powers to stop their support for the uprising, after which a national dialogue conference would be convened to draft a charter which would then be put to referendum. Though he looked thin and pale, his resolve was undimmed. He blasted the rebels as agents of Syria’s enemies. He also thanked Russia, China and Iran for supporting him in the face of hostility from the US, Britain and France. Assad’s speech sends ominous signals about his intentions and the future of the uprising. First, despite his army’s loss of control over large swathes of land in the north and east of the country, the mass defections from his team and the unity among Arabs and the international community in demanding his ouster, he is sending the message that he still believes he can survive the revolt. Secondly, he is cocking a snook at international efforts to mediate a solution, notably by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab peace envoy, who has been at the forefront of a diplomatic push for a negotiated solution.
The opposition immediately rejected the president’s offer and said his speech was primarily directed at the international community.
The president must realise that any solution to the crisis must begin with his exit because he cannot be part of any solution. But he has made it clear he would not relinquish power under any circumstances, and nor would he negotiate with the opposition. That leaves the opposition with only one option: fight to the finish.
Also, Assad’s temerity and arrogance should serve as a wake-up call to the international community. There is no point in pursuing a negotiated settlement. It’s time for intervention.