Battle Lines Harden Over Syria Regime Change War
June 8, 2012 • 7:29AM

The fault lines between Russia and China on one side, and the U.S. and the Europeans, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia on the other, have deepened in the past 48 hours over how to deal with the Syria situation. At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting that ended yesterday in Beijing, a clear statement was issued, opposing any regime-change or outside military intervention in Syria. A joint statement by Russia and China declared "decisively against attempts to regulate the Syrian crisis with outside military intervention" and also said they oppose efforts to remove Mr. Assad from power.

Traveling with President Putin in China, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia would support the convening of an international conference to help implement the Annan Plan — and that Iran should be a participant. And in response to reports coming from the London-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory, of a new massacre in another Syrian village, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a sharply worded statement, saying that the intent of the massacre was to sabotage the Annan peace mission, implicitly accusing those backing the armed rebels of being behind the killings.

Yesterday, in New York, Kofi Annan held a series of meetings at the United Nations on his Syria mission. In the morning, he addressed a public session of the United Nations General Assembly, and in the afternoon, he met, behind closed doors, with the entire UN Security Council. Last night, he was dining with the five permanent UNSC ambassadors (US, UK, France, Russia, China). Annan has proposed the creation of a Contact Group, to be composed of Russia, China, the US, the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran to facilitate the ceasefire and reform process, as spelled out in the Annan Plan.

The Obama Administration, the Europeans, Turkey and a number of Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council countries, however, are moving aggressively in the opposite direction. At the Istanbul conference on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton came out unambiguously for President Assad's removal from power as a precondition for cooperation with Russia and China. The conference, ostensibly an anti-terrorism conference hosted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, was predominantly focused on Syria, and the participating countries pledged to increase their support for the opposition. There will be a meeting in Istanbul next week of the Syrian opposition groups, and many of the countries that attended yesterday's conference will be there as well. A retired Middle East DIA official, closely tracking the Istanbul conference, declared today that it was clear to him that NATO is committed to overthrowing the Assad government. The Friends of Syria will be convening a big meeting in Paris on July 6.