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Secretary of State John Kerry’s current tour of the Gulf region not only comes as a familiarisation trip for the US official, it has provided a badly needed opportunity for leaders of the region to voice their views on a range of issues of immediate concern. Kerry was in Doha yesterday. He met the Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and earlier addressed a press conference with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani, where both leaders answered questions from the media on issues ranging from North Korea to Syria.
This is Kerry’s first overseas tour since his appointment and shows the importance he attaches to the region. US relations with the Arab world are going through minor convulsions since the advent of the Arab Spring. Leaders and people in the Arab world expect the US to tailor its policies to suit the current situation and it’s this adjustment which Kerry should focus on.
Syria is an example, and is one of the major issues which the Gulf leaders discussed with the visiting US official. Gulf leaders have a clear stance on Syria which is at odds with that of Washington. They believe that Syria is on the verge of disintegration and arming the rebels is the only way to overthrow the repressive regime of Bashar Al Assad. But Washington has been hesitant, saying it is concerned about the weapons falling into the hands of hardliners.
Kerry said the US was increasingly confident that weapons being sent by others to the opposition were going to moderate forces rather than extremists. That could be seen as a climbdown from the previous rigid position, but it’s not enough. The Prime Minister said the international community and the US had changed their position on the issue of supplying weapons, adding that had the rebels been armed earlier, the huge loss of lives could have been avoided.
There is a need for deeper military involvement in Syria and Assad must be made to leave immediately. The situation is so serious that unwillingness to address the issue on an emergency basis will be equivalent to abetment. Syria cannot be allowed to disintegrate. The death toll is spiralling and thousands of people are fleeing war every day. The crisis has begun to spill into the neighbouring countries and threatens to suck them into the vortex.
Britain has changed its position on supplying weapons to rebels, which could herald a change in the European position too. Washington too needs to react more positively to Gulf leaders’ demands•