Qatari Leader Calls for Arab-Led Intervention in Syria

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, addresses the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City on September 25, 2012. Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Qatar’s emir called for an Arab-led intervention in Syria, hinting at the use of military means to stop a conflict that has dragged on for 18 months.

After the United Nations Security Council’s failure to act in Syria, “it is better for the Arab countries themselves to interfere out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani told the 193-member General Assembly yesterday.

Qatar has led the group of Persian Gulf nations seeking more far-reaching measures to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, even going as far as arming the opposition, a step widely criticized by the UN and Western nations. Al Thani yesterday suggested Arab nations should act in unison and intervene in Syria as they did in the 15-year civil war in Lebanon.

“We have a similar precedent when the Arab forces intervened in Lebanon” in the 1970s, he said.

The extent of potential military intervention was left unclear.

“It’s easy to say tough things at the UN, but will they actually send in military? Nope,” said Richard Gowan, associate director for crisis diplomacy and peace operations at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.

“Qatari officials have always been among the most hawkish on Syria, but Qatar can hardly lead a large-scale intervention,” Gowan said in an e-mail. “This statement was probably meant to prod others, like Turkey, towards mounting an operation.”

French Involvement

France has been in talks with Qatar, Jordan and Turkey about establishing protected civilian zones in Syria, French President Francois Hollande said at a press conference in New York after his General Assembly address yesterday.

“We must protect these zones,” he said, while sidestepping questions seeking more details about how that would be done. “We are not there yet, but we are working with our partners,” he said.

Earlier, at the UN, he said France “will recognize a provisional government, representative of the new free Syria, as soon as it is formed. It will demand full guarantees each community be respected and live in security in the Syria of the future.”

A U.S. State Department official said the Qataris have pushed the idea of a military intervention for some time. While the U.S. hasn’t eliminated any course of action, for now it believes that military intervention from the outside would do more harm than good, the official said.

Slow Diplomacy

The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak for attribution because the talks are private, said that the U.S. and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League special envoy, believe diplomacy can be used to bring about a negotiated political transition in Syria. The official said that during Brahimi’s talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, Brahimi made it clear he believes this will take time.

The U.S. and Brahimi are mindful that negotiations might ultimately fail, the official said. Until that point is reached, the U.S. will continue to back a strategy of applying economic and political pressure on the Assad regime and helping the Syrian opposition with supplies and in its attempts to become a more unified force.

A meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria, set to take place Sept. 28 on the margins of the UN General Assembly, will examine ways to connect opposition groups inside and outside Syria and foster unity among them, the official said. Clinton will also announce changes in U.S. aid to the opposition, the official said.

Lebanese Anxiety

Clinton also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati yesterday. The two spent most of their meeting talking about the potential risks and threats to Lebanon’s stability posed by the conflict in Syria, including refugee flows, the State Department official said,

Mikati highlighted his concerns about extremists entering Lebanon and using the northern part of the country as a platform for their activities, the official said.

Also yesterday, Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr Al Thani, said in a CNN interview that Qatar would propose a “Plan B” for Syria involving safe havens and more humanitarian aid. Buffer zones would require the use of military force for protection, U.S. officials have said in resisting calls to support that type of effort.

The prime minister didn’t name any of the countries that may be involved in the plan. Syria is located in the heart of the Middle East, with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq as neighbors.

‘Aspirational’ Plan

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, said the countries involved “want to accelerate, given the dangers of where we are and the situation inside Syria, to this kind of alternative. It’s a bit of a risk if it doesn’t really work.”

Shaikh, speaking by telephone from Amsterdam, said he would “consider it to be aspirational rather than something which is enforceable, especially without the U.S. support” to ensure a no-fly zone.

International and regional efforts have failed to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria, where at least 28,000 people have been killed, according to estimates by the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 35 people died yesterday, including 19 in Daraa, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria.

The UN refugee agency has registered 221,280 Syrian refugees in neighboring nations, a figure that doesn’t include civilians displaced in Syria by the fighting.

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