G8 calls for urgent peace talks on Syria but leaves out fate of Assad

After a two-day summit, G8 leaders released a statement Tuesday calling for a political solution to the Syrian conflict and backing plans for a peace conference to be held in Geneva "as soon as possible." According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the leaders had "overcome fundamental differences," to draft a statement on common goals. ...

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

After a two-day summit, G8 leaders released a statement Tuesday calling for a political solution to the Syrian conflict and backing plans for a peace conference to be held in Geneva "as soon as possible." According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the leaders had "overcome fundamental differences," to draft a statement on common goals. However, the statement left out mention of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad as Russia refused to support any statement that listed Assad's removal as an explicit goal. It said that a transitional government should be "formed by mutual consent" and "under a top leadership that inspires public confidence." After the summit, Cameron said it was "unthinkable" that Assad could play a role in a transitional government. Additionally, the G8 leaders pledged nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict. Meanwhile, a large blast hit the Syrian port city of Latakia on Wednesday near a military facility, but the cause of the explosion is unclear. According to Syrian state media, a technical problem at a weapons store caused the explosion at a military engineering base injuring six people. However, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 soldiers were injured and the cause of the blast is still unknown.

Headlines  

Israel held celebrations for President Shimon Peres's 90 birthday at the fifth Presidential Conference in Jerusalem where he awarded former U.S. President Bill Clinton the President's Medal of Distinction. Sunni and pro-Hezbollah militia groups clashed in Lebanon's southern port of Sidon Tuesday in one of the most severe outbreaks of violence in the city since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. In an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan, ousted President Hosni Mubarak said he made the decision to step down "to protect people's lives and not shed blood." Yemeni and Western officials have reported that Iran is working to gain a foothold in Yemen, training and directing arms to southern separatist militants. Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that families of soldiers killed in Iraq can sue the British government.

After a two-day summit, G8 leaders released a statement Tuesday calling for a political solution to the Syrian conflict and backing plans for a peace conference to be held in Geneva "as soon as possible." According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the leaders had "overcome fundamental differences," to draft a statement on common goals. However, the statement left out mention of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad as Russia refused to support any statement that listed Assad’s removal as an explicit goal. It said that a transitional government should be "formed by mutual consent" and "under a top leadership that inspires public confidence." After the summit, Cameron said it was "unthinkable" that Assad could play a role in a transitional government. Additionally, the G8 leaders pledged nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict. Meanwhile, a large blast hit the Syrian port city of Latakia on Wednesday near a military facility, but the cause of the explosion is unclear. According to Syrian state media, a technical problem at a weapons store caused the explosion at a military engineering base injuring six people. However, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 soldiers were injured and the cause of the blast is still unknown.

Headlines  

  • Israel held celebrations for President Shimon Peres’s 90 birthday at the fifth Presidential Conference in Jerusalem where he awarded former U.S. President Bill Clinton the President’s Medal of Distinction.
  • Sunni and pro-Hezbollah militia groups clashed in Lebanon’s southern port of Sidon Tuesday in one of the most severe outbreaks of violence in the city since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.
  • In an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan, ousted President Hosni Mubarak said he made the decision to step down "to protect people’s lives and not shed blood."
  • Yemeni and Western officials have reported that Iran is working to gain a foothold in Yemen, training and directing arms to southern separatist militants.
  • Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that families of soldiers killed in Iraq can sue the British government.

Arguments and Analysis

The Price of Loyalty in Syria (Robert Worth, The New York Times)

"No one in the room would say it, but there was an unspoken sense that they, too, were victims of the regime. After two years of bloody insurrection, Syria’s small Alawite community remains the war’s opaque protagonist, a core of loyalists whose fate is now irrevocably tied to Assad’s. Alawite officers commanded the regime’s shock troops when the first protests broke out in March 2011 — jailing, torturing and killing demonstrators and setting Syria on a different path from all the other Arab uprisings. Assad’s intelligence apparatus did everything it could to stoke sectarian fears and blunt the protesters’ message of peaceful change.

Yet the past two years have made clear that those fears were not completely unfounded, and it did not take much to provoke them. Syria’s Sunnis and Alawites were at odds for hundreds of years, and the current war has revived the worst of that history. Radical jihadis among the rebels now openly call for the extermination or exile of Syria’s religious minorities. Most outsiders agree that Assad cynically manipulated the fears of his kinsmen for political survival, but few have asked — or had the opportunity to ask — how the Alawites themselves feel about Assad, and what kind of future they imagine now that the Sunni Arab world has effectively declared war on them."

Wrapped in Surprise, Stuffed with Politics (Arang Keshavarzian, MERIP)

"Why the surprise? It is never quite clear what exactly caught all the analysts off guard. Was it that the conservatives in the Islamic Republic — the so-called principlists — did not unite behind a single candidate? It should have been clear that the principlists would have difficulty getting their house in order. They have been splintering along various policy and personality lines ever since the presidential race of 2005. The much discussed ‘2+1 coalition’ that brought together conservative heavyweights Mohammad Qalibaf, Gholam Haddad-Adel and Ali Akbar Velayati taught everyone a lesson in arithmetic as all three threw their hat into the ring. (Haddad-Adel withdrew, but only four days before the polls.)

Or was it simply that Rowhani won? If so, why did so many observers discount a man who had the support of leading regime figures, a coalition assembled of erstwhile reformists and technocratic pragmatists, and energetic campaigners in Tehran and smaller towns? It has long been known that elections in the Islamic Republic are not just a one-off event, but also an occasion for citizens to discover each other, express their concerns about state of the country and share their desires for the future. Iranian elections are never entirely staged; they expose the limits of autocratic power as much as they enact the Leader’s will.

Ultimately, the reasons for the experts’ surprise say more about the experts — their assumptions about Iran and politics writ large — than about Iranian society. Most have moved on to the next set of prognostications. What will Rowhani’s win mean for Iran’s stance in negotiations over its nuclear research program? Will he strike a ‘grand bargain’ with Washington? Will he stop Iranian backing for the regime of Bashar al-Asad? Will he be able to change Iran? Instead, the would-be Nate Silvers ought to pause to ask why Iran surprises them over and over again. The answer lies not in better polling or more journalists or keener parsing of the peculiar ways of Persians, but in a better appreciation of the campaigners and voters on the ground. In trying to read Khamenei’s mind (and, now, Rowhani’s), these analysts betrayed their penchant for psychology and their discomfort with the struggles of an Iranian society that, despite and because of the conditions imposed on it, engineered its own election."

–By Mary Casey and Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.