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January 28, 2022
EDITORIAL

The Spanish initiative

By  Radu Cristian in Madrid

“To preserve the chances of dialogue with the Assad regime, the Spanish diplomacy was the most cautious in Europe. It did not recall for consultations its ambassador in Damascus like Italy, for instance, and did not request an emergency meeting of the Security Council.”

The reputed Spanish daily ‘El Pais,’ with readers in Europe and on other continents, announced in its Monday issue that, in July, Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero secretly sent to Damascus his main foreign policy advisor, Bernardino Leon – who meanwhile became the European Union’s special envoy in the South Mediterranean region – with the mission of proposing Syrian President Bashar Al Assad a transition plan meant to find a solution to the present state of repression experienced by the country.

Leon traveled alone, using only his regular passport and without resorting to his diplomatic credentials, and entered no official building, only visiting the Syrian regime dignitaries at their homes.

Leon’s collaborators said that Zapatero’s envoy did not meet Al Assad, although other well informed sources claim this actually happened. They jokingly said that “two lions met,” as in the Arab language Assad means lion.

As it is known, Madrid cabinets have maintained a privileged relation with Syria ever since the beginning of the democratic transition. From this point of view, Zapatero is no exception. Miguel Angel Moratinos, for example, was the first Foreign Minister of a Western country that went to Damascus in 2006, after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut, with the suspected involvement of Syrian intelligence services. According to El Pais, Moratino’s trip irritated Washington. Trinidad Jimenez was the last Foreign Affairs minister of a EU country that visited Damascus in March, before the beginning of the revolutionary unrest.

Until June, Zapatero was in telephonic contact with Al Assad. He used this mean of communication to prepare Leon’s visit in July, with a multi-point proposal aimed not only at stopping the repression and detaining those directly involved in it, but also at organising in Madrid a national conference of all Syrian forces that will set up the calendar of transition and will form a government to include opposition representatives, which will coordinate this transition.

Turkey, which shares with Spain the leadership of the Alliance of Civilisations, will join this process.

“My impression is that they do not want to give up anything essential,” a diplomat recollects what Leon said upon his return from Damascus. “My discussion partners were far from reality,” Leon complained. The current special envoy of the EU considers that the victims of the army – whose number exceeds 1,800 – practically left the Spanish proposal without object and the opposition’s only goal is to topple the regime.

If this will happen, the Spanish government is willing to grant asylum to President Assad and his family anywhere in Spain, if they request it. Spanish press recollects the long tradition of Syrian exile in Spain, which begins with members of the ‘Muslim Brothers’ and includes no more no less that Rifaat Al Assad, the uncle of the acting president and former vice-president of Syria. To preserve the chances of dialogue with the Assad regime, the Spanish diplomacy was the most cautious in Europe. It did not recall for consultations its ambassador in Damascus like Italy, for instance, and did not request an emergency meeting of the Security Council. It has kept a milder tone in official statements, compared to other capitals, less critical even than some Arab states of the Gulf.

Unfortunately, the way things evolve, the latest episode that occurred Sunday, when the regime attacked with warships the port of Latakia, killing 21 people in a district of the town, gives no good sign for the future.

According to Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della Serra,’ President Assad has become his own prisoner. As it is known, Latakia has always been considered as a laic fief of Alawites – the Shiite sect the president himself belongs to. These days, the Damascus leader has ordered this most infamous attack, as described by the same Italian daily, launching grenades at the minarets of mosques and ordering soldiers to occupy several cult sites, precisely during the month of Ramadan. The fury of Arabs and, generally, of all Muslims made many countries recall their ambassadors, starting with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In Iran too, Bashar and his regime enjoy below zero popularity. Even the friends and former friends of the president, like Turkey, declare themselves ready for anything: even for an armed intervention.
This is why the Spanish initiative could have absolutely no chance of success.

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