News Column

U.S. Seeks Support for Syria Intervention

April 26, 2013

Taylor Luck, dpa

Syrian soldier in chemical warfare gear. (Photo: U.S. Defense Dept.)
Syrian soldier in chemical warfare gear. (Photo: U.S. Defense Dept.)

A series of high-profile meetings this week between US officials and key Middle East allies was designed to build regional consensus over a possible military intervention in Syria, analysts say.

US President Barack Obama met Tuesday with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Washington. Obama was due Friday to confer with King Abdullah of Jordan for their second summit in less than a month.

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the United Arab Emirates, on the final stage of his first tour to the Middle East since becoming Pentagon chief Pentagon nearly two months ago.

"It is clear that a decision has been made in Washington and elsewhere that the situation in Syria has reached the point of no return and requires international intervention," Oraib Rentawi of the Amman-based al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told dpa.

"These meetings are designed to determine how and what type of intervention will take place."

Hagel's tour also took him to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - Washington's key allies in the region.

At the heart of the tour was the sale of sophisticated US weaponry to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, totalling 10 billion dollars.

Military experts say Washington's finalization of the deals is part of an attempt to shore up military and political support for a wider role in the two-year-old Syrian conflict.

"These arms deals are a simple way of assuring Saudi and UAE support for the new US policy towards Syria," said Omar Ashour, an expert at the Brookings Institute and head of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in Britain.

The most significant leg in Hagel's week-long diplomatic offensive may have been the shortest.

During a three-hour stopover in Amman, Hagel reportedly explored with Jordanian officials the feasibility of a joint US-Jordanian response to the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. He was also reported to have discussed the establishment of missile bases to strike targets within Jordan's northern neighbour.

Experts point to the visit - as well as to the recently-announced dispatch of 200 US military advisors to Jordan - as a sign that Washington is preparing to use Jordan as a base for a potential international intervention in Syria.

"All the scenarios being proposed to support the opposition or intervene in Syria rest on one principle," said Mahmoud Irdaisat, the head of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the King Abdullah II Defence Studies Academy.

"The road to Damascus leads through Jordan."

The flurry of diplomatic activity suggests that the United States' current aversion to intervention in Syria may be weakening - a shift possibly driven by fears that the violence may spill over into Jordan and Israel.

"For two years, the international community stood by silently, traumatized by the Iraq war and refusing to help the opposition," said Nadim Shehadi of the London-based Chatham House think tank.

"These visits are a sign that as it enters its third year, the conflict is now threatening Syria's neighbours - a scenario Washington is not willing to accept."

According to Jordanian security and US diplomatic sources, Washington and its allies in the region are currently discussing several proposals, ranging from boosting the supply of arms to rebel forces, to imposing no-fly zones over possible "buffer zones" along Syria's borders with Jordan and Turkey.

Major Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pushing for a vast increase in arms for opposition forces rather than direct international intervention. But diplomatic sources say the proposal has faced resistance from the US, Jordan and Israel over fears that the weapons will end up reaching radical Islamists.

With Obama also due to meet Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan next month, and US Secretary of State John Kerry set to make his second Middle East tour in as many months, observers say Washington's involvement in Syria has only just begun.

"After two years on the sidelines, the US is finally taking on the Syria file," said Mohammed Abu Rumman, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

"No matter which route it takes, the US will need all the friends it can find."

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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