21 Jun 2012

Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli: UN Security Council should exert more pressure on Syria

Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli has given an interview to Interfax during his visit to Russia in which he speaks about the agenda of his visit to Moscow and the Syrian crisis.

Question: What is the purpose of your visit to Russia? What Russian officials will you meet?

Answer: There are two purposes of this visit. The first one is to put the final touches on the preparation for the Arab-Russian forum, which will be launched before the end of this year. The second purpose is political dialog between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the rest of the delegation. We will be meeting Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov tomorrow morning. We will be visiting the Science Academy. We are going to meet its director, who is concerned with the implication of our action plan. The output of the forum‘s first session will be an action plan to implement activities between the two sides on the political, economic, social and cultural levels.

Q.: Will Syria be discussed at your meetings with Russian foreign ministry officials tomorrow?

A.: Absolutely, it will be discussed. There will be special talks about the coming meeting of the contact group in Geneva on June 30. As you know, there is a Russian proposal to hold such a meeting, and we are still waiting for results of negotiations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin. As you know, there is going to be five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus four organizations: the UN, League of Arab States, European Union and Organization of Islamic Conference.

Q.: In your opinion, should Iran take part in this conference?

A.: This is still under negotiations. The main achievement now is to agree on an agenda of the first meeting, then this meeting will decide which partners will attend. For my personal opinion, all the players involved in the crisis in Syria must be a part of this coming contact group.

Q.: What is the LAS position on Kofi Annan‘s plan and the decision of UN observers to stop their mission? Does it mean that Kofi Annan‘s plan has failed?

A.: Actually, they are not able to carry on with the mission, but that does not mean that the mission has ended. It is suspended until the circumstances on ground improve, so they can observe and carry on with the mission. As you know, Kofi Annan is a joint envoy for the Arab League and UN, and he is doing his six-point plan. The first point of this plan is to stop violence. If there is no ceasefire between the two parties that are really practicing the violence, the you cannot achieve the second and the third step, which means the release of detainees and starting political dialog.

Q.: So, you say that Kofi Annan‘s has not failed yet?

A.: No, we cannot say that it has failed, but we say that maybe it will need another step from the Security Council to try to implement this plan but with more restriction on the Syrian regime.

Q.: Should this step include a new Security Council sanction resolution based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter?

A.: I think that this step will come sooner or later. If the situation carries on like this, we will have to use Chapter 7 to implement the plan, but we need unity in the UN SC, so altogether we can put more pressure on the Syrian regime.

Q.: Should this sanction resolution be referred to the Syrian government only or to the opposition too?

A.: The previous resolution was asking all the parties to stop fighting, not only the Syrian regime. We do agree that there is the fighting between the two parties. It is not only the Syrian regime shooting, but it has bigger responsibility in this field. So, when we ask them to stop violence, we are asking both parties to stop violence.

Q.: So, does the LAS insist that both the government and the opposition should be blamed for the nowadays crisis in Syria?

A.: I cannot from my side blame the opposition, but I can tell them that they have to unify, and they have to have a unified position on the coming steps to cope with Annan’s plan. The problems is that opposition is divided, and they cannot speak in one direction, So, I prefer to say that they have to unify, because the coming step needs a dialog between maybe the government and the opposition at the same time.

Q.: Let‘s talk about the Russian and Chinese positions on Syria and their veto in the UN Security Council. Do you think that Moscow really supports Bashar Asad‘s regime or it just tries to find a solution to this conflict within the frameworks of the international law?

A.: I believe that the Libyan experience is at the background of everybody, and in this situation nobody wants to repeat a military intervention in the crisis. I think that this option is not on the table for all the international community, not only the Russians, but the Arab League, the Americans and Europeans are not in favor of repeating the Libyan experience again. You know, there is a huge economic crisis in Europe, the Americans are quite busy with their elections, so we cannot say that this is an option. But to implement this plan we need to find a new mechanism, and the mandate of the special envoy need to be revised to be sure that all the parties will be committed to implementing the plan.

Q.: Do you think that UN Security Council has to send military peacekeepers to Syria?

A.: I do believe that the observing mission must change to a peace keeping mission, and this is the position of Arab league. We are asking now to go back to SC and sent not an observing mission, but the peacekeeping mission, which can really be able to act on the ground and better to implement the plan.

Q.: Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the members of Arab League, but they insist on a military intervention in Syria, as well as on shipping weapons to and financing the opposition. Is this a common position of Arab League?

A.: Resolutions of the Arab League Council have never mentioned military support of the opposition, as military intervention in the crisis is not an option. All the Arab countries believe this is not a solution to this crisis, but the Arab countries are free to decide on their own, as sovereign countries, how to deal with the crisis, but this does not reflect the League‘s opinion.

Q.: What do you think of Russian military cooperation with Syria? Russia says that it sells weapons that cannot be used against the opposition in Syria, but do you think that Russia anyway has to stop such cooperation?

A.: I agree that there is no UN Security Council resolution on arms embargo, but embargo on military equipment from the Americans and Europeans works. I can say that any help for violence must be stopped, because when you help in supporting military equipment, you help in killing people. So, this must be stopped.

Q.: Should Bashar Asad leave his post as a precondition for the start of political dialog in Syria, or should there be no preconditions for such a dialog?

A.: In the Arab plan to solve the Syrian crisis, in its fifth point, we mentioned a transitional period for the transfer of power, in this step the Syrians will decide how and who to do in it.

Q.: Not so long ago military opposition in Syria said that it is not going to implement the Kofi Annan plan any more. How you could comment on it?

A.: I hope that everyone will stick to the plan, because this is the only solution on table for now. So, I think, both sides should stop fighting.

Q.: Mr. Lavrov said that international conference on Syria should become the only format for solving crisis in this country. He meant that the so-called group of ‘Friends of Syria‘ has to stop working. Do you agree with this?

A.: I agree that the effort of the international community to solve the problem must concentrate on a new tool, and the contact group that will hold its first meeting at the end of June will be an good instrument that will help to solve Syrian crisis, bring all the international players all together to discuss the way out of this crisis.

Q.: Do you think that international community should recognize the Syrian National Council as the only representative of Syrian opposition?

A.: No, I think, there are several fractions in the opposition, and they are not yet unified under the National Council. So, I think they have to sit altogether. And we are having a meeting under the Arab League auspices for the opposition on July 2-3 to try to put a road map of further steps for the opposition.

Q.: Will the Arab League take part in Geneva meeting on June 30?

A.: Absolutely. We are part of the process. Our secretary general will participate in this meeting himself.

Q.: Mr. al-Arabi did not come this time to Moscow. Is he going to visit Russia later?

A.: Yes, he is willing to do this. His visit was scheduled for June 13, but it was postponed, but he is willing be here soon.