Syria: Diplomats Fear Rebels Cannot Defeat Assad
President Bashar al-Assad could survive for some time and the West does not have a “clear mechanism” for removing Syria’s regime, senior Western diplomats conceded on Wednesday.
Despite Europe, the United States and most of the Arab world trying to maximise the pressure on Mr Assad, diplomatic sources believe there is no imminent prospect of his downfall.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Mr Assad’s overthrow was a question of “when, not if”, but diplomats say the regime is still convinced that it can defeat the opposition.
“There are various scenarios for change, but there isn’t a clear mechanism right now for achieving that,” said one.
The United Nations Security Council has so far failed to pass a resolution on Syria after Russia and China vetoed an earlier draft that would have called on Mr Assad to stand down. While economic sanctions have been imposed, Western powers have ruled out direct military intervention.
Simon Collis, the British ambassador to Syria, who has returned to London following the closure of the embassy in Damascus over security concerns, yesterday said he could not rule out the prospect of Mr Assad surviving the revolt. “I can’t say that is impossible from an analytical point of view,” he said. “I certainly don’t think it’s likely and certainly not desirable.”
The cautious assessment came as Baroness Amos, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, was taken by Syrian officials for a 45-minute tour of Baba Amr, the previously rebel-held district of the city of Homs which suffered 26 days of continuous bombardment.
Aid workers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were also allowed to distribute food and medical supplies in the area for the first time since it fell to the army last week. They found most residents had fled.
Lady Amos, who was initially denied entry to Syria last week, is on a three-day mission to persuade authorities to grant unfettered access for aid workers to needy civilians caught up in violence.
Earlier, she met with Walid al-Moualem, foreign minister, in Damascus. He told her Syria was trying to meet the needs of all citizens despite the burdens imposed by “unfair” Western and Arab sanctions, the state news agency SANA said.
While her visit is a concession to international opinion, it has been conducted on Mr Assad’s terms and demonstrated how he has been able to manipulate access by outside observers and journalists to a large degree.
For all the horror at atrocities against civilians, the Syrian president retains the support of most of the ruling elite, while the armed opposition is weak.