‘Syria much more complex than simply overthrowing the government’
RT: Moscow insists diplomacy and dialogue is the solution to the Syrian crisis, calling the West's approach "destructive." How do you see the polar views of the international community being bridged?
Conn Hallinan: I’m not sure how they’re going to be bridged unless there’s a step back on both sides. First of all, you cannot call for the replacement of the regime and then expect to have a diplomatic solution. So when President Obama says that Assad ought to be replaced, who is going to do the negotiating? If the default position is regime change, then it’s going to be a fight to the death.
My impression is that both sides are at a stalemate. Seems to me that the solution here was originally basically the ones that both China and Russia have proposed, which is that you get a cease-fire, you do not talk about regime change at this point – that is part of the negotiations, that is part of the diplomatic process. And I do not see that happening so long as the United States, France and Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are trying to initiate and engineer regime change. I’m a bit discouraged about where it is going to go from here, but if it does not have a diplomatic solution, I think the ripples are going to be just disastrous.
RT: As the Syrian conflict shows no signs of easing, is a UN-backed peace deal possible anymore, or have we surpassed that opportunity?
CH: I think it is possible. What we need to do is maybe recognize that in the long run, the Assad regime is going to go – I’m certainly not losing any sleep over that, but that is something that has to be decided as part of the negotiations. And at this point the war has not simply spread to Turkey but to Iraq and to Lebanon. It has the possibility of spreading into Jordan. This is a potential disaster, and people are treating it as if it is just simply a matter of overthrowing the government. It is not. It is much more complex and it is much more difficult.
RT: Russia remains supportive of UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. What chance does his mission have in adding a breath of fresh air to the conflict, now that the mediator himself says that "he has a few ideas but no plan"?
CH: It is a possibility and it is all you can really talk about. The problem is to go back to the original thing. As long as the default position is regime change, I do not think any plan could work. I mean, the Assad regime is not going to give up voluntarily, and so it is a war to the death. So that is what needs to be changed. There needs to be a sort of diplomatic or cultural revolution, that people need to recognize the necessity to step back, and that there’s a political process that can resolve this. I do not think that the principal players are paying any attention to it.
RT: During some of the latest protests across the Muslim world, al-Qaeda flags have been raised by demonstrators outside US embassies in some countries – but the US and its allies keep supporting the rebels in Syria, of whom links to al-Qaeda have been made. Where's the line between friend and enemy here?
CH: I think it is very difficult at this point. There is no question that al-Qaeda has made an appearance in Syria, although you have to be really careful; al-Qaeda is not really an organization, it is really an ideology. But there’s no real question that al-Qaeda-type groups are active in Syria. In one, an interview with the Syrian National Council in Der Spiegel, has basically said that they have really taken over a significant portion of the fighting, that’s what the car bombs represent. We let the genie out of the bottle and I think we have blown life into al-Qaeda both from the Libyan war and this war, and I think it is going to come back and bite us.
RT: Syria's ally Iran has been one of the focal points of the UN General Assembly session, with Barack Obama saying the US "will do what it must" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Is he inching closer towards launching a war on the Islamic Republic?
CH: I certainly hope it is rhetoric, because such a war is certainly not going to accomplish anything besides making essentially a general war in the region. It is very hard to judge what is going to happen in this case. I hate to predict it, but I do think that if you call for Iran on their nuclear weapons and you do not mention the Israeli nuclear weapons at the same time, I do not know how that is going to be read in the region. I mean, everybody knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, but we do not even know that Iran is trying to build them; they cannot have them and Israel can? I do not think that is a message that is going to resonate with much of the facts in the Middle East.