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A Free Syrian Army fighter walks through the rubble of damaged buildings in Aleppo's al-Sayyid Ali neighborhood, June 18, 2013. (MUZAFFAR SALMAN/REUTERS)
A Free Syrian Army fighter walks through the rubble of damaged buildings in Aleppo's al-Sayyid Ali neighborhood, June 18, 2013. (MUZAFFAR SALMAN/REUTERS)

On Syria, leaders didn’t agree on much Add to ...

On Syria, on dealing with terrorists, and on financial transparency, the leaders of the Group of Eight found much to agree upon – and much to divide them.

  1. The final communiqué was very similar to one issued a year ago by a UN-Arab League action group, Patrick Martin writes below. It reveals that the U.S. government did not get the backing it hoped would give it some cover in arguing for military aid to be sent to the rebel forces.
  2. But, as Geoffrey York writes from Johannesburg, countries often say one thing and do another – so look for politicians to continue to deal with terrorists to save the lives of hostages.
  3. The summit’s host put discussion of tax evasion and rules for financial reporting high on the agenda, but the final agreement lacked details and a timetable, Paul Waldie writes.

What the G8 said

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For Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Tuesday’s communiqué issued by the Group of Eight meeting in Northern Ireland was hugely disappointing; as it was for the four million internally displaced civilians in Syria and the 1.6 million people who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

The G8 had trumpeted the 27-month-old civil war in Syria as the most important subject its members would discuss in the two days of meetings. But, faced with Russian support for the Assad regime and reluctance on the part of several other participants to push harder, the group could agree on little more than the terms of a communiqué issued a year ago by a United Nations-Arab League “action group.”

The Geneva communiqué, cited several times in the G8 leaders’ closing statement Tuesday, established some general guidelines for ending the violence in Syria and a political process to take the country forward. The guidelines were expressed in such broad terms that one of the first governments to endorse the plan was that of Mr. Assad himself.

The G8 agreed on:

1. increasing its commitment to humanitarian aid;

2. maximizing diplomatic pressure to bring all sides to the table in Geneva as soon as possible;

3. backing a “transitional governing body” for Syria (as called for in the Geneva communiqué);

4. maintaining Syria’s public institutions, including the military and security forces (as in the Geneva communiqué);

5. working to rid Syria of terrorists and extremists;

6. condemning any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

 

What it didn’t say

The final communiqué had no reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or other current senior officials and whether they should be denied a part in a transitional authority. It also didn’t have any reference to supplying arms to anyone in Syria and whether it should be allowed, or a specific reference to the Syrian government as already having used chemical weapons. There was also no timetable for convening peace talks in Geneva as called for by Washington and Moscow.

 

What it all means

9 Despite the words of host British Prime Minister David Cameron that it would be “unthinkable” for Mr. Assad to be part of a future authority, by the terms of the Geneva communiqué, the transitional governing body “could include members of the present government.”

Not ruling out Mr. Assad is a likely concession to Russia, which endorsed the Geneva communiqué a year ago and signed on to this year’s G8 statement, having insisted that anyone in the current regime could be part of a transitional governing body.

Watch for Mr. Assad’s loyal vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa to play a major role in a transitional body, should it ever come to pass.

9 Absent a reference to providing arms, the United States finds itself alone among G8 members in supporting the provision of lethal weapons to Syrian rebels.

This may mean a lengthy delay in when U.S. weapons actually reach Syrian opposition fighters, as there appears already to be a substantial public push-back against sending any arms. The Pew Research Center found last week that 70 per cent of Americans oppose providing arms to the anti-government forces in Syria.

The Obama administration was hoping that a G8 resolution would give them some cover in arguing for military aid to be sent to the rebel forces.

Just the normal process of Congressional oversight takes a long time to fulfill. Fully half of the so-called non-lethal U.S. aid promised the Syrian rebels in February has yet to be shipped.

If it takes this long for non-lethal aid to be sent, imagine the problems the administration is going to have getting approval for lethal military aid to be dispatched, said Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist as the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The absence of a G8 arms reference is a further victory for Mr. Putin, who told journalists Tuesday that nothing in the leaders’ statement prevented him from fulfilling contracts to supply weapons to the Syrian regime.

9 Despite British, French and Canadian agreement about Assad culpability in this matter, the absence of a statement on chemical weapons use by the Assad regime weakens the U.S. rationale for providing arms to the Syrian rebels. This was the so-called “red-line” that U.S. President Barrack Obama had drawn, the crossing of which would justify U.S. military aid to the rebels.

Score another victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who continues to argue that it is equally possible that rebel forces used chemical weapons.

9 The absence of a timetable for convening peace talks means the conference in Geneva won’t begin until August at the earliest. At the current rate of 5,000 deaths per month, that means that at least a further 10,000 Syrians are likely to have been killed before there are any face-to-face talks on ending the conflict.

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