Russia option vital for Syria: Carr

By Natasha Robinson

AUSTRALIA is urging Russia to take a leading role in forcing regime change in Syria as Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced overnight a widening of sanctions against the Mid-East nation.

Russia was uniquely placed to engineer a “transition road map” for Syria based on the Yemen model of political change and was the only nation likely to be able to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power, he said.

Senator Carr, who was recently in the Middle East, will argue in Paris next month that the Russia option presents the “only immediate viable solution” for halting bloodshed and stopping Syria’s slide into full-scale civil war.

“There is a fatalism about the slide to civil war and nothing I heard in Turkey and four Arab countries offered hope of ceasefire, especially given the deadlock in the UN,” Senator Carr writes in The Australian today. “It is time for the world to focus more sharply on what seems the only immediate viable solution: a lead role for Russia.”

The government announced overnight that Australia’s current regime of autonomous sanctions to Syria would be widened to encompass entire industries. The oil and petroleum sectors will be targeted, along with the financial sector, trade in luxury goods, communications equipment, and precious metals and gems — all sectors in which the Assad regime has direct interests.

Australian exports to Syria amount to $17 million each year, but Senator Carr said expanded sanctions sent an important message to the increasingly isolated Assad government. “It’s a qualitative stepping-up. Australia’s trade and financial dealings are not big, but it’s a significant move: it goes beyond the ban on visas for members of the regime and on financial dealings for members of the regime.

“It’s significant as part of world action. It will contribute along with what other nations are doing concerning the leadership and making it feel isolated.”

Senator Carr will travel to Paris early next month for a meeting of the Friends of Syria — countries that have imposed sanctions on the nation. He plans to raise the Russia plan at that meeting, on July 6, and with several nations in talks before the Paris gathering.

The idea of instituting a Yemen model for political change in Syria has support in the Arab League, which has suspended Syria. An uprising in Yemen prompted a transfer of power to the vice-president, in an arrangement that will culminate in the drafting of a fresh constitution and parliamentary elections in 2014.

Senator Carr said there were obvious differences between Yemen and Syria. There were no signs of a split in the Assad government that would fatally undermine the President’s power and there was no sign the Syrian opposition would be satisfied with his mere removal, but a change in leadership could provide a chance for the objectives of UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan to be realised.

“Such a transition roadmap — in line with the transition in Yemen — would add enormously to Russia’s credibility,” Senator Carr writes.

“Russia may still see this as a red line, one they will not allow to be crossed. But this may become harder as bloodshed mounts.”



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