Middle East
2:00 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Syria Rejects Arab League Plan To Quell Fighting

Originally published on Mon January 23, 2012 7:25 am

Transcript

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Having sent observers to examine protests in Syria, Arab leaders have offered a plan to end the violence there. The proposal comes from the Arab League, a group of Arab nations. And NPR's Kelly McEvers has been following this story. She's in Beirut.

Hi, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: OK. So what do the Arab leaders want to do?

MCEVERS: The Arab League is suggesting that the Syrian regime do a bold thing, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad abdicate power immediately to his deputy, to his vice president. After that, what the regime should do, says the Arab League, is put together a kind of unity government, a transitional government, and then eventually pave the way for parliamentary elections in the country.

I mean, it's a plan that's similar to the one that sort of ended the stalemate in Yemen. You saw the Yemen president step down, abdicate power to a deputy, and now there's a political process of a sort in Yemen.

INSKEEP: Sounds like a nice idea, but is there any chance that Syria's president Bashar al-Assad is going to step down?

MCEVERS: Well, look, this is a real opportunity, analysts here in the region are saying. I mean, the violence has reached a level that people are worried will not stop at this point. Hundreds of people have died just in the past month alone.

Will the regime actually take this opportunity to stop the violence? Well, it's not looking very likely. On state TV, Syrian officials are saying the plan is basically just a conspiracy by the nations that want to bring down the regime. Officials basically called, you know, certain members of the Arab League, namely those who are leading this process, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as those who fund terrorism.

So, no. I mean, it's what we've seen in all these other Arab uprisings. Is a leader going to, you know, immediately say, yeah, sure, no problem? I'm going to step down. Doubtful.

INSKEEP: So let's just review here, Kelly McEvers. Syria has gotten more and more attention as the so-called Arab Spring has gone on. It has been the scene of some of the more violent protests and violent crackdowns, actually, we should say, in recent months. Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad, is determined to stay on, has said he's determined to stay on. What if he does not comply with this Arab League proposal? What happens?

MCEVERS: The threat with the Arab League is that they would take it to the U.N. Security Council, that they would sort of ratchet it up a notch and go to the full, sort of, international body.

The problem with that threat is that Russia continues to threaten to veto any measure on Syria, especially any measure that includes any kind of intervention at the international level. So the Assad regime at this point knows that it's got Russia on its side, and basically knows that it doesn't necessarily have to comply with any of these plans.

INSKEEP: Well, Kelly McEvers, as someone who has slipped into Syria in various ways in recent months, I wonder what your sense is of the situation on the ground. Are there large numbers of people who are worried about total chaos in Syria, about losing all of their interests in Syria if the protest and the crackdowns continue the way that they have?

MCEVERS: Yes. Definitely, yes. I think, in recent weeks, you had these Arab League observers in Syria. And there was some hope that because there were sort of eyes watching what was happening, that perhaps the situation would calm down. It has done the opposite.

The situation has gotten much worse on the ground. It's looking more and more every day like a civil war. There are checkpoints. People are shuttering themselves inside their homes at night while the shooting goes on outside. The killing, the next morning, nobody knows who's done what. I mean, it cannot be overstated how bad the situation is getting.

So I feel like most analysts and diplomats are saying, look, anything that could stem this violence at this point is worth trying.

INSKEEP: Does Assad still have his supporters in Syria?

MCEVERS: Definitely. I mean, especially in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, the two main cities of Syria, where you've got an upper middle class and a middle class, for that matter, that's thrived under Assad.

That said, the Syrian currency is starting to drop. The price of heating oil is going up. The availability of heating oil is sort of disappearing. So people are starting to suffer, are starting to feel the effects of this. And if that really takes hold, we'll see if that support remains.

INSKEEP: Kelly, thanks.

MCEVERS: Sure.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers reporting on a proposal by the Arab League to end the protests and crackdowns in Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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