March 25, 2014
The Syrian government announced has victories on multiple fronts in recent weeks: alongside Hezbollah troops, the Syrian army captured the last rebel stronghold of Yabroud in the Qalamoun mountains, and had successfully destroyed nearly 50 percent of its chemical weapons materials.
In the diplomatic sphere, though, the United States struck a blow, if largely symbolic, by expelling the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. and announcing the closure of the Syrian embassy in Washington as well as consulates in Texas and Michigan.
The move accompanied the appointment of a new American envoy to Syria’s opposition, Daniel Rubinstein, who replaced the recently resigned Ambassador Robert Ford.
For Syrians, events in Ukraine are overshadowing Rubinstein’s appointment. Those in the opposition maintain that Putin’s takeover of Crimea has emboldened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who “is exploiting all possible opportunities to destroy and kill,” says Hisham Marwa, a member of the executive council of the Syrian National Council, the largest bloc within the opposition Syrian National Coalition.
“This reflects a serious and clear position toward the American government and to the international powers that Bashar is not serious in his political overtures,” Marwa told Mohammed Ali al-Haj Ali.
Observers have suggested that both Syria and Ukraine are extensions of the Cold War rivalry between the US and Russia
Q: A new American envoy to Syria was appointed. Will that change anything in Syria?
The previous chief of the Syria file, Ambassador Robert Ford, knew what was happening in Syria. He was close to the events. He was at a protest in Hama province where there were around 500,000 protests in the streets, and saw the environment there. He was active in the stage of popular activism, and that was evident in his speeches. Any American ambassador or envoy to Syria will have his hands full, therefore matters will not change much by changing the envoy. Changing a person does not change policy, except in a partial way.
Q: Is there a connection between America’s expulsion of Syria’s diplomatic delegation to the U.S. and changing the envoy?
I do not expect it will change a lot of the policy. But of course, the administration governs the policy as a whole. After what happened in Ukraine, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has escalated [affairs]. [The regime] is exploiting all possible opportunities to destroy and kill. This reflects a serious and clear position toward the American government and to the international powers that Bashar is not serious in his political overtures.
Nothing has been achieved in terms of quality support for the rebels, or a no-fly zone, or even a feeling that there is a limit to measures the regime can take.
Q: Has the coalition communicated with the new U.S. envoy?
A: According to my information, there has been no communication. But of course, any new envoy would connect with Istanbul, the Coalition and the whole opposition, like all previous ambassadors and envoys have done who support the people of the Syrian revolution. All of them have made sure to contact the opposition. But as of now I don’t know about any communications with the new US envoy.
Q: The U.S. government announced the closure of all Syrian consulates in addition to the embassy. Will the coalition fill their role? Or will the coalition open an embassy there?
A: The coalition now has a representative but not a consulate, but it is very possible there will be an ambassador or a consul from the coalition. A new ambassador or consul won’t be appointed before negotiations on the topic, similar to what took place in France and Britain. As of now, there has been nothing related to this.
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