August 17 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations Security Council agreed not to renew its unarmed observer mission in Syria, conceding it was unable to stem the violence as concerns grew that the Syrian conflict was spilling across borders.
The council decided yesterday in New York to let the mandate for the observer team expire, with operations scheduled to “fade out” beginning Aug. 19, French Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud said. The mission has numbered about 300 unarmed military observers.
The council endorsed a plan by Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon to open a small political liaison office in Damascus to prepare for what follows the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad.
The Security Council’s decision marked the latest setback in efforts by the global body to broker a cease-fire and open talks between Assad’s government and rebel forces. A diplomatic impasse continued between the U.S. and France, which support the opposition and want Assad to step down, and Russia and China, which have vetoed UN resolutions to increase sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Syria.
“The UN succeeds at managing crises the strongest powers don’t care much about; it fails at managing crises when the major powers have interests,” said Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in California and an associate professor of international security studies at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. “Cooperation on international crises is the exception, not the rule.”
More than one million people have been uprooted in the 17- month-old struggle and another million have “urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people’s livelihoods,” UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos told journalists in Damascus yesterday.
The prospect of the conflict spilling into neighboring countries intensified yesterday as Persian Gulf citizens were warned to leave Lebanon amid kidnapping threats against them after the abduction of a Lebanese man in Syria
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Beirut and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry undersecretary said their countries’ nationals should leave Lebanon immediately, as did Qatar and Bahrain. Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning “in anticipation of a spillover from the Syrian crisis,” the state news agency KUNA reported.
The calls came after the Meqdad clan, an extended family that belongs mostly to Lebanon’s Muslim Shiite community, kidnapped 20 Syrians in retaliation for the abduction of one of its members in Syria, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation reported, citing a family spokesman. The clan also seized a Turkish national in Lebanon and the spokesman, who wasn’t named, threatened to capture Saudis and Qataris, LBC said.
Hajj Maher Meqdad, the secretary general of the Meqdad Family League, later pledged not to attack anyone else from the Persian Gulf, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported.
Meqdad said the clan had halted all “military operations as they caught a sufficient number of Free Syrian Army supporters as well as a Turkish citizen,” the news agency said.
Turkey and Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed the opposition against Assad’s government, where fighting has taken on an increasingly sectarian character. Many rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the government is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. supports a smaller UN presence in Syria that could help support humanitarian aid. The U.S. is concerned by the “spillover” of Syrian violence into Lebanon, she told reporters.
More than 17,000 people have perished in the conflict since it began last year. Syrian security forces killed at least 229 people yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The UN Security Council action reflects the limitation on movements by observers amid the violence in Syria and the failure of the mediation efforts of Kofi Annan, who resigned Aug. 2 as joint special envoy for the UN and Arab League.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin faulted countries that he said “did not really show a commitment to ending hostilities,” a reference to the U.S., France and Britain, which supported ending the UN mission.
Churkin said the nations in the Syria Action Group, originally formed to support Annan’s mediation efforts, will continue to press for implementation of Annan’s six-point plan. The Action Group includes the Russia, China, the U.S., the U.K., and France, which are the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Turkey, the European Union, and Arab states.
“There was a general feeling that the conditions to continue Unsmis were not fulfilled,” Araud said after yesterday’s Security Council meeting, referring to the mission by its acronym.
The new UN office will have 20 to 30 people and will include political, military, humanitarian and human rights advisers, as well as a de-mining unit, said Edmond Mulet, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping. There are now 101 observers and 72 civilian staff in the observer mission, reflecting a reduction in numbers already under way, he said.
The challenge now facing diplomats is how to end the fighting quickly.
“It won’t burn itself out,” said Schake, who served as a senior policy adviser to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona during his 2008 run for the presidency. “It’ll consume the tinder in surrounding countries and set the whole region aflame.”
That fighting may not end in a total victory for the rebels, warned Andrew Tabler, a Middle East analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, speaking by telephone from Beirut.
“The regime may only contract, not fall,” said Tabler, That may open the door for future UN peacekeeping in a Syria partitioned among various opposition groups and the remnants of the Assad regime.
Unless the U.S. can move swiftly to arm the rebels or impose a no-fly zone over Syria to protect the rebels from Assad’s air force, it is likely to have little influence over events, Tabler said.
“It’s the people primarily who are taking the shots from the Assad regime who will be calling the shots once it’s gone and they are very unhappy we haven’t helped them,” Tabler said.
--Editors: Michael Shepard, Terry Atlas