The Assad regime in Syria is the equivalent of a “dead man walking” and will not survive, an Obama administration official said today.
Frederic Hof, the administration’s Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs, said President Bashar al-Assad has “signed his own political obituary” by unleashing his troops on civilians. Hof urged other countries to support moves in the United Nations to sanction Syria.
International efforts to take action against Syria in the Security Council have been blocked by Russia and China as violence has spiraled, raising concerns that it might spread to Lebanon and other countries in the region. Hof said that while U.S. officials are certain Assad won’t last, they aren’t able to say when his government will fall.
“This regime is the equivalent of dead man walking,” Hof told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East today. “But the real question is how many steps remain. I think it’s very difficult to project how much time this regime has.”
Hof said the international community’s duty to the Syrian people “transcends power politics,” and made a direct plea to Russia and China, which teamed in October to veto a resolution condemning the Assad regime.
The Security Council faced new calls to intervene in Syria yesterday after the UN’s top human-rights official raised the estimated civilian death toll in the country to more than 5,000 and said Assad’s government should be investigated for crimes against humanity.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the 15-member body in New York yesterday that the situation in Syria was “intolerable,” and asked that “gross violations” committed by Assad’s security forces be referred to the International Criminal Court. “Ruthless repression” may soon plunge Syria into “civil war,” she said in prepared remarks.
The U.S. backs the Arab League proposal to send human rights monitors and the press into Syria, Hof said. “The regime is less likely to do its worst if there are monitors on the ground,” Hof said today.
Hof appealed directly to Russia, China and India, which abstained on the October vote, as he made his remarks to the subcommittee. Russia and China are permanent members of the Security Council and have the power to veto resolutions.
“We ask that Russia, China, India and others address some basic questions,” Hof said. “Does the regime permit peaceful protest? Does the regime allow the political opposition to organize, discuss and deliberate without fear of assassination or arrest?”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday criticized the “immoral” position the West has taken on Syria and said it was ignoring violence by the Syrian opposition. Russia has been experiencing the largest street protests in years in the wake of a Dec. 4 parliamentary election tainted by accusations of fraud. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won the majority of seats in the Duma by little more than 50 percent, with 238 of the legislature’s 450 seats.
Hof stressed that the Syrian demonstrators to date have been peaceful and that the U.S. is urging that they remain so, even as Assad ratchets up the violence.
“We ask those governments that are insulating this regime from the will of Syria’s citizenry, do not make innocent civilians pay the price for your political calculation,” Hof said.