Arabi says China, which is veto-wielding member of Security Council, appears to be ‘more flexible’ than Russia on Syria file.
Middle East Online – By Christophe de Roquefeuil and Mona Salem – CAIRO
‘Iran is not so influential’
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is in danger of collapse “anytime” as the opposition gains ground on the military and political fronts, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said on Monday. “That could happen anytime,” the secretary general said in an exclusive interview.
“Now they are fighting in Damascus,” and after 20 months of violence, “I think there will be something soon,” he said. “Facts on the ground indicate very clearly now that the Syrian opposition is gaining, politically and militarily. Every day they are gaining something,” Arabi said. He said a new coalition of Syrian opposition groups now based in Cairo was “moving ahead.” The Arab League, which is also based in the Egyptian capital, last month recognised Syria’s National Coalition as the “legitimate” representative of the Syrian opposition.
“We are in touch with them and they come here all the time,” Arabi said. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the conflict which broke out in March 2011 has cost more than 41,000 lives.
There have also been fears of a spillover of the violence into neighbouring countries. “The possibility is there, you cannot exclude the possibility,” Arabi acknowledged. He also deplored Russia’s support of Damascus, which along with China has blocked the United Nations Security Council from adopting sanctions against Damascus.
“The Russians insist Assad should be there until the end of the (transition) process, while others say once the transition period starts with a government with full executive powers, Assad is needless,” Arabi said. But he said China, which is also a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, appeared to be “more flexible” than Russia on the Syria file. Arabi’s assessment was that Iran, considered Assad’s firmest ally in the international community, is in fact “not a big actor.” “I keep reading in the papers Iran is providing money, Iran is providing weapons … They deny everything but they say they are helping” Damascus, Arabi said. “I don’t expect Iran to change its views. They are dogmatic but they are not so influential,” he said. The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recognised the National Coalition formed last month as “the Syrian people’s legitimate representative”, although the 22-member Arab League stopped short of granting it full recognition. Spain on November 29 also decided to recognise the National Coalition, following the example of France, Britain and Turkey as well as the GCC. The 27-nation EU has formally recognised the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, while France has suggested arming opposition fighters.