With Syrian Gains, Prospects For International Conference Dim

International Conference Faces Steep Odds Of Success
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gains control over key rebel strongholds, there is increasing pressure on the US and the West to intervene in the two-year long civil war.

“We are doing everything we can to end this violence. We know how hard the road ahead is to get to a negotiated political settlement, but that’s the best way to end the violence,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

One of the issues of discussion during the international conference in June, which Russia says should include Iran as a participant. In the intervening weeks, however, it appears as if the situation in Syria will become increasingly dire.

Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Oman on Monday to engage in talks about the agenda for the upcoming meeting on Syria. But many analysts echo the sentiments of Frederic C. Hof, former special adviser for transition in Syria at the U.S. Department of State, that the conference is unlikely to bear fruit.

“It’s worth the effort, because even if there’s only a 10 to 15 percent chance of success, the alternative is just really terrible,” says Hof.

One demand by the West is that Syria’s Assad relinquish his power, which he is unlikely to do voluntarily. In an interview with the Argentinian newspaper Clarin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he rejected the proposition of leaving office, comparing himself to a captain leading a ship through a storm.

“When a ship is in the middle of a storm, standing down is the same as fleeing — and a captain doesn’t flee. The first thing is to face the storm, return the country back to the right position and then things can be decided. I’m not a person who shirks responsibility,” al-Assad declared.

Events Continue To Worsen On The Ground
As Syrian and Israeli forces again exchanged fire – this time after an Israeli vehicle was hit – there were reports of a growing presence of Hezbollah in Syria, a development which troubles neighboring Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that a warning has been issued by the Free Syrian Army that those communities loyal to al-Assad’s Alawite minority will be “wiped off the map” if the strategic city of Al-Qusair is taken.

“We don’t want this to happen, but it will be a reality imposed on everyone. It’s going to be an open, sectarian, bloody war to the end,” Colonel Abdel-Hamid Zakaria, a spokesman said.

Concerns About Chemical Weapons In Al-Qaeda’s Hands
As the situation in Syria deteriorates, concerns grow that chemical weapons in Syria could fall into the hands of forces loyal or belonging to al-Qaeda.

Efforts have been made to “consolidate” stocks of chemical weapons, but “the chaos engulfing the country some will almost inevitably fall into rebel hands sooner rather than later unless something is done,” reports The Economist.

“Indeed, Jabhat al-Nusra, the most powerful rebel faction and the one with closest links to al-Qaeda, reportedly came very close to capturing a stockpile near Aleppo earlier this year. A senior NATO official argues that, whereas it is premature to talk about al-Qaeda getting hold of chemical weapons, conditions on the ground make it increasingly likely,” the magazine notes.


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