Bashar Assad on political offensive
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was met by a jubilant crowd as a winner. Living on the edge of life and death, he appealed to the people not from a bunker and his office, but the stage of the Opera Theater in Damascus. This is an exemplary act of a real leader who wants to raise his people to fight against the enemy - international terrorism.
The Syrian leader said that he was one of the people and would always be with the people. He added that titles were temporary, but the homeland was eternal. Interestingly, his speech on January 6 came after two significant events: the visit of Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad to Moscow on December 27 and a meeting of UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi with the Syrian opposition that presented a new peace plan for resolving the conflict.
The results of the Russian-Syrian meeting were not disclosed. Senior Researcher with the Institute of Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Akhmedov said that its goal was to clarify how Russia would support President Assad, whose departure is demanded by the opposition. Bahrami plan, referred to as the "agreement between Moscow and Washington," was prepared on the basis of the Geneva agreements and provides that Assad will remain in power until the end of his term, that is, until 2014. However, his powers and duties will be reduced to the protocol, and he will not be able to participate in the next election. The plan was supported by the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCC) that is not a member of the national coalition of the opposition and the revolutionary forces of Syria that the U.S. and hundreds of countries recognized as legitimate. Yet, the plan caused harsh criticism of the warring factions.
However, its content suggests that the West no longer insists on the immediate resignation of Assad. It is also clear that the Syrian president appeared inspired, presumably with the support of Moscow and less categorical attitude of Washington. The Syrian leader talked about several important aspects.
First, the legitimate president showed that he would not surrender his position and clearly identified the enemy of the Syrian people - "associated with" al-Qaeda "terrorists" that he described as "enemies of Allah and puppets of the West": "There are those who want to divide and weaken Syria. But Syria is stronger and will remain a united country. This upsets the West."
Second, Assad said that there can be no question about any negotiations with NCC. "Syria will be talking with the master, and not the servants," the president said, and rightly noted that the events happening in Syria could not be called a revolution. "Revolutions need ideas, revolutions needs leaders. Where are the leaders?" Assad said. The President also noted that any peace initiative should help the Syrians without trying to replace their actions.
Third, the President urged the people to rally around the army and put forward his plan of gradual recovery from the crisis. According to the SANA agency, in the first phase the regional and international forces should refrain from funding and arming terrorists who have to stop criminal activities in order to create conditions for the return of Syrian refugees. Only after that the army units would cease operations, while maintaining the right to respond to aggression. Then, the current government would direct and open discussions with all sectors of the society and prepare the National Dialogue Conference that would bring together all forces interested in a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The government should convene the National Dialogue Conference to generate a national charter that would confirm the sovereignty, territorial integrity of Syria, rejection of foreign intervention and the cessation of violence, wherever it may come from. This charter would outline the political future of Syria, its constitutional and legal system, the main directions of development of the economy, the new law on political parties in parliamentary and local government elections. The Charter will be put to a referendum, followed by a formation of an extended government that can implement its provisions.
The next step would be preparation and the referendum on the new Constitution. After its approval, the general government would pass the law on elections that would serve as the basis for electing a new parliament. Under the new Constitution, the government will be formed, general conference of national reconciliation will be held, amnesty to participants of events will be granted, the destroyed infrastructure restored and compensation to the victims paid. Assad has started to act, but to implement this plan, he should move on and try to find allies in the Arab world, not only in the face of Iran, set up headquarters to coordinate counter terrorism and conduct a broader information warfare. Videos on the Internet about the atrocities of militants and, for example, captured French advisers, influence public opinion. The fact that the pro-Western opposition would reject the proposal of Assad was obvious, and it happened, but the problem is that NCC does not have its combat troops. Free Syrian Army (FSA), the An-Nusra and other Islamist organizations are not subject to it and carry on their war with very different goals.
This fragmentation is the main hope of Assad. Every war ends in negotiations or surrender. NCC, in fact, is not in the game, and the Islamists should be forced to negotiate. There are grounds for it after the successes of the army in December. In addition, there is internal Syrian opposition that wants a dialogue, and he should bet on it.
The international response to Assad's speech came as expected. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the appeal to the people of the Syrian president "more than hypocritical". The U.S. and EU also condemned him. Sky News TV reported that after the speech of Bashar Assad "Al-Baath" university students in Homs held an anti-government demonstration. However, they took to the streets in support of this statement, denounced Sky News SANA. Syria openly supported the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. "In line with our position and to resolve the Syrian crisis by political means, Iran supports the comprehensive plan to end the conflict in the country proposed by President Bashar al-Assad," said the Minister.
Russian Foreign Ministry has not made any statements. On December 27 the official site of the office published a text of the spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
In particular, he said: "On the development of the situation in Syria. We strictly adhere to all agreements and believe that only the Syrians are able to develop a sustainable model for their continued existence as a single and independent state, and all the foreign players should help."