As I was writing the last post, I realized I have a free couple of minutes to tune into the livestream of the UN General Debate. And who should be speaking, but the Foreign Minister of Syria, Mr. Walid Al-Moualem. This being too good an opportunity to miss, I decided to listen in.
Rather than dodging the issue, FM Al-Moualem decided to tackle his country’s current issues head-on.
“There is no doubt that the positions of states are governed by geopolitical realities and constraints and demands stemming there from,” he began, speaking of Syria’s role in the balance of politics, being in the very heart of the Middle East. This was all well and good, until he began to speak of Syria’s historic support of resistance movements. I suppose that those movements only count outside of Syria’s borders.
He went on to talk about Syria’s having extended the hand of friendship to all states and how it builds relations on mutual respect and interest. Mr. Al-Moualem then pivoted to speak on the occupation of Iraq, which “dragged us into another battle”, where they faced the choice of “siege and isolation or submitting to dictates”. They clearly chose the former.
Having properly framed the strength and bravery of the Al-Assad government, Mr. Moualem spoke of the internal issues as having two sides. On the one, the country needs the people driven political, economic and social reforms that the citizens of Syria have been calling for, and that President Assad has apparently championed. However, “political circumstances” forced internal demands to take a backseat to other priorities. It would seem that the “overriding priority” was “facing external pressures” that were “at time tantamount to blatant conspiracies”. This was followed up with another declaration that armed groups are currently sabotaging the Syrian protests and sowing seeds of insecurity as a pretext for foreign intervention. In what may have been my favorite part of the speech, Mr. Al-Moualem declared that Syria takes very seriously its responsibility to protect its citizens, and has acted to guarantee their safety and security from international intervention.
Syria’s FM went on to say that after President Al-Assad declared his reform measures in June, he introduced all sorts of Acts, allowing political pluralism, laying the groundwork for free and open media, and the potential for a new Constitution. He went on to claim that opposition figures have come together with the government to examine this reform package. This confuses me, as I’m pretty sure the Syrian opposition was barely able to agree on naming themselves the Syrian National Council, let alone enough of a plan of action to be able to meet with the government and negotiate reforms.
He then started talking more about the “other side of the coin”, calling out countries that spoke out about Syria in the General Debate for promoting defiance and incitement. In a wonderful leap of logic, Syria “deeply regret[s] the surge in the activities of armed groups…, which have not waned and instead continued to spiral”, which were declared to be “in tandem with multiple economic sanctions”. So the Syrian government kills more people the more it’s sanctioned, serving almost as a cryptic warning to the West. As a side note, nobody is saying that there has been absolutely no violence incited by the opposition; it’s just that violence in Syria is being carried out by on a scale several magnitudes by the Syrian government and army against the people compared to the reverse. In any case, by targeting the Syrian economy with sanctions, Mr. Al-Moualem stated, the United States and European Union jeopardize the basic subsistence needs of the Syrian people, which cannot be reconciled with concerns for the rights of the Syrian people. Concerns for the rights of the Syrian people being of the utmost priority, of course.
Towards the end is where it got really interesting, as the claim was put forward that the Al-Assad government has opted for a secular route as located Syria is located in an area of many religions. While I agree that it is in the cradle of the major religions, and that the Syrian people as whole seem to steer away from secular conflict, I have to say that the fact that Syria helps fund Hezbollah really undercuts the statement as a whole. Mr. Al-Moualem followed up by railing against the “financing and arming of religious extremism”. Seriously? There is not a pot/kettle analogy strong enough to be used here. This religious extremism is meant to spread Western hegemony and Israel’s expansionist needs. And the train has gone off the rails. He concluded by saying that the Syrian people will reject any intervention, and “will not let you implement your plans and will foil your schemes”, and thanked those countries that have “stood by [his] people”. Here’s looking at you, Brazil. Well played.
During his speech, Mr. Al-Moualem tried to hide behind the UN Charter, specifically Chapter I, Article 2, Section 7:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter
This is a pretty common line of attack in the protection of national sovereignty against the responsibility to protect. However, everyone seems to forget the second part of Article 2(7):
but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.
The ball is quite clearly in the Security Council’s court as the arbiters of Chapter VII; it’s then imperative for the survival of the Syrian government that it continues its push to have the Libyan intervention viewed in a negative light by the current members of the Security Council. So long as the BRICS countries refuse to take action on Syria, the likelihood of Syria’s protests taking on a much more violent approach rises. I can only hope that in its example and in diplomatic pushes, that Turkey can convince some of its fellow middle/rising powers to take a much firmer stance on Syria.