France raises Syrian intervention issue
Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, has raised the possibility that western powers could intervene directly intervene to protect civilians in Syria from the Assad regime.
He suggested that “humanitarian corridors or humanitarian zones” could be established to protect those under attack.
As the Assad regime presses ahead with its attacks on Syrian rebels, Mr Juppé has become the first senior western figure to raise the possibility of such an intervention. He said the issue would be discussed by European Union foreign ministers at a meeting next month.
After meeting in Paris with Burhan Ghalioun of the Syrian national council, one of the leading opposition groups, Mr Juppé said full scale military intervention by the west in Syria was not being considered.
But he said: “In response to a demand from the Syrian national council, we will examine, notably with our EU partners, the possibility of launching humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the considerable suffering of the (Syrian) population.”
“Should we create humanitarian corridors or humanitarian zones? It’s something we will examine.”
Western countries have imposed economic sanctions on Syria but had shown no appetite for intervention on the ground in the country, which sits on the faultlines of the ethnic and sectarian conflicts across the Middle East.
But in a comment that will intensify speculation that some kind of international action could now be considered. Mr Juppé said: “If it is possible to have a humanitarian dimension for a securitised zone to protect civilians, that then is a question which has to be studied by the European Union on the one side and the Arab League on the other side.”
In a move that also signalled the growing alienation of Syria by western states, Mr Juppé said the Syrian national council has become “the legitimate interlocutor with whom we will continue to work”.
Mr Juppé said his comment did not indicate that the SNC was being given formal diplomatic recognition but it could be at a later date.
His comment was the biggest international endorsement yet for a nascent opposition body that seeks Mr Assad’s overthrow.
Mr Juppé’s comments came as Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, set out a democratic vision of a Middle East complete with a European Union-style organisation to drive economic and political progress.
Delivering the inaugural annual speech for the British Foreign Office’s Wilton Park think-tank, Mr Gul said the region lacked “an efficient regional economic co-operation and integration mechanism.
“We all saw the role played by the European Union in facilitating the democratic transition in central and eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said.
The Middle East already has organisations for economic integration such as the Gulf Co-operation Council and Mr Gul did not elaborate on what role he saw for Turkey in a new organisation when it was still applying for European Union membership.
Analysts said, however, that the speech reflected the scale of Turkish ambition in the region and the country’s new-found self-confidence on the world stage. Mr Gul, who is on the first state visit to Britain by a Turkish president in 23 years, said political and economic stability in the region would also “stabilise the oil markets and with that the global price levels of all the main commodities”.