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No Syria intervention – What Next? – 2014 Spring Conference

Tim Llewellyn, ex-BBC Middle East Correspondent, said Syria had known much instability and violence for a century from post- 1918 French control to today: France truncated it with ‘divide and rule’ of its various religious communities; creation of Israel was a disaster for Syria; with rising Arab nationalism during the Cold War, the West wrongly saw Syria allied to Communism. 1960s onward saw stability under Ba’ath Party-Assad regimes, but with ruthless suppression of opposition and Islamist risings. The West welcomed 2011 anti-Assad insurgency, wanting it to break the
Iran-Syria-Hezbollah nexus to help Israel: this had not happened. “In Syria, support for Assad has grown because the alternatives are seen as dangerous and incoherent.” Thawing US-Iran relations offered hope of posssible diplomatic breakthrough, but US-Russia crisis over Ukraine had made Putin more determined to back Assad. Baria Alamuddin, Lebanese-British Foreign Editor, Al Hayat, said Syria focused all regional issues, showed the world community’s weakness, and was complicated by ever-deepening divide within global Islam between Shia and Sunnis, “threatening the whole fabric of Middle East society”. Iran was intervening with financial support for Hezbollah pro-Assad fighters in Syria. [An Iranian present stressed intervention by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states].’Restoring world order’ was the fundamental issue. Dilip Hiro, journalist, author of Dictionary of the Middle East, emphasised post-1945 Middle East had been torn by many conflicts and interventions. Iran backed Assad ‘because Syria has never been under US control’; it saw the civil war as anti-Israel, but Saudi Arabia saw it as a Sunni-Shia conflict. The army “is fully behind Assad, because 70% of professional soldiers are Alawites”. US would not get involved, and West would ‘not fight alongside
Jihadists against Assad’. The war would end ‘with exhaustion’ – but could last further 2–5 years.

Dr. Thomas Daffern, Director, International Institute of Peace Studies, proposed solutions for Syria, saying the Peace Movement “needs to articulate ‘Peace Policy’ ”. UK should urge disarmament on all sides, free access for aid, local security systems, elections, a truth and reconciliation commission; also, offer to arrange neutral mediation to all parties, with a UK warship as neutral ‘peacekeeping ship’. Peace Policy made good moral sense, changed enemies into friends, fostered virtue and solidarity, and
helped create ‘an enlightened world’. Anthony Russell, founder of Chandos Foundation went further, urging ‘unconditional love’ – running through all the great religions – as “the spirit around which the world could unite”. Rejecting mass media and nation states’ propoganda that hate, greed and violence were necessary evils, the world could achieve fundamental mind-set change through primacy of unconditional love, finally bringing world peace with international law. In like vein, inspirational leadership adviser Leena Patel urged “a new unity affirming the goodness in all”, rejecting ‘the mentality of separation’ and restoring
compassion into world politics.

Discussing ‘How Future Wars can be Stopped: End Hypocrisy and Double Standards’, UfP Chair Vijay Mehta said Parliament’s rejection of military action against Syria [August 2013] could become permanent if a future UK foreign policy focused on dialogue, diplomacy, soft power and UN. Rising China, US pivot to Asia, new East-West Cold War, Israel/Palestine and wider Middle East, post-NATO Afghanistan, Pakistan menaced by Taleban and US drones, NATO/EU expansionism and Russian defence of its ‘near abroad’, were all sources of potential conflicts needing international resolution through UN, peacebuilding with disarmament, boosting rule of law, and tackling global poverty and inequality. A third Geneva Conference on Syria with global and regional powers agreeing and imposing a peace plan, was now urgent – as was “de-legitimising war as a way of solving disputes”.

UfP Co-ordinator Brian Cooper said the Peace Movement must be vigilant against any moves to reverse the no-war vote. Ethical foreign policy would stress strong aid programme backinggrassroots anti-poverty projects, peaceful conflict resolution, cultural and economic links, and ‘people-to-people peacemaking’ by civic groups, and reject threatening actions such as Trident renewal and backing arms trading. Christian reconciliation applied in global affairs meant ‘taking the legitimate interests of ‘the other’ absolutely seriously’ and ‘repenting’ of past errors. On Ukraine/Crimea, the West should recognise its failings and betrayals towards Russia since end of the Cold War had led to the crisis: NATO/EU expansion to the East at the expense of Russia’ security threatened it, causing mutual suspicion and hostility. A new pan-European peace and security framework was needed for lasting peace, finally achieving Gorbachev’s ‘common European home’.

Open Forum issues included: opposing ‘normalisation of violence’ in the media, replacing a ‘war economy’ with a ‘people matter’ economy, and bridging the gap between people and decision makers internationally, eg. with a ‘UN Parliamentary Assembly’.

The morning A.G.M. received reports on UfP work 2013-14 from the Chair, Treasurer and Co-ordinator/Churches & Inter-faith Secretary; Officers and Executive Committee for 2014-15 were elected, including new members Lucy Mbugua, Leena Patel and Anthony Russell. Tributes were paid to Kenneth Greet and Tony Benn.

(Full reports on UfP website – www.unitingforpeace.com)
Report by Brian Cooper, Leena Patel & Daphne Smalling

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