January 16, 2014
To Solve Syria, First Get Assad to Accept UN Aid Workers
By James Rupert
As the international community prepares to gather Syriaâs civil war combatants January 22 for talks aimed at ending the war, the best hope of prompting President Bashar Assad to consider political compromise is in first requiring him to let UN humanitarian agencies work throughout the country, Hof writes this week in an essay for the Council. The UN should postpone next weekâs conference, called Geneva II, until Assad provides that access. This would constrain an Assad military response that, Hof writes, has become âan ever-escalating assault on civilian populations.â
Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken on the Syrian conflict and its civilian victims with âcoherent and even soaringâ rhetoric, according to Hof, but US policy now is overlooking an âunvarnished truthâ that Kerry expressed soon after taking office nearly a year ago. That is, writes Hof, that âAssad's calculation would have to be changed before the head of Syria's criminal clan would take negotiated political transition seriously.â
The prospect of US military strikes to change Assadâs calculus was set aside in Washingtonâs agreement in September to abstain from armed action in exchange for the removal of Assadâs chemical weapons.
âAssad took this to mean he was free to use his Russian-supplied weaponry as he wished, provided he refrained from using chemical munitions,â Hof says.
âIdeally Geneva II would commence on January 22 with a humanitarian truce substantially in place: one characterized by full United Nations access to all parts of Syria,â according to Hof. If Assadâs main backers, Iran and Russia, âcannot oblige their client to do the minimally decent thing, why should they be expected to do anything useful in the context of Geneva II's mission: political transition?
âThe entirety of the American diplomatic effort needs to be focused on what has become easily the most catastrophic humanitarian disaster of the 21st century,â Hof told National Public Radioâs Morning Edition on January 15. âYouâre seeing genocidal effects being produced on the ground: this terrible daily bombing, strafing, shelling by the Assad regime of populated areas -- densely populated areas -- in the hope that they may catch a few rebel fighters. This is whatâs driving this humanitarian catastrophe and the international community just hasnât come up with an answer to it yet.â