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To solve crisis, West should drop mixed messages: report
File - A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 29, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah)
File - A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 29, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah)
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BEIRUT: Western policymakers focused on Syria should drop their mixed messages and revise their view of both the United Nations and the role of sectarianism, according to a report on the crisis by Chatham House.

In a report issued this month, the London-based research institute offered 10 recommendations for policymakers, starting with “identify clearer objectives and prioritize what matters most in Syria.”

It says the mixed messages from the West are down to “confused objectives ... humanitarian impulses, conflict resolution, conflict containment, regime change for strategic gain, counter-terrorism, chemical weapons destruction and nonproliferation.”

The report endorses a political solution for the crisis, now in its third year, but blames the “about-face” by Western officials for emboldening the regime. Western governments called for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s downfall, and then military action in the wake of the August chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in the suburbs of Damascus.

The threat of force then melted away in the face of public and parliamentary opposition in the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The about-face “has allowed the Syrian regime to see the change of approach as a sign of Western weakness rather than wisdom,” the report says.

The report urges policymakers to “see the U.N. as more than a humanitarian and coordinating agency,” due to its experience in conflict management and reduction, and says “Western governments should avoid falling into the trap of seeing the Syria crisis primarily through a sectarian lens.

“While the conflict remains implicitly sectarian, the explicit sectarianism of the Iraqi civil war or the Bosnia war has not yet been reached, and many Syrians continue to reject the sectarianization pursued by radical rebel groups and by cynical elements of the regime,” it says.

Other recommendations stress the need to engage with a wider set of actors, and especially civil society.

“With 7 million displaced persons, 2 million of whom are refugees, the future of Syria now lies in large part outside the country,” it adds.

The report also recommends preserving the central state and “what remains of civil society,” because “focusing solely on Western priorities has little relation to the interest of Syrians and inevitably creates a backlash from the other international or regional powers involved.”

It predicts that next month’s scheduled Geneva II conference will likely fail to resolve differences between local players, but it “may be more effectively used to secure agreement between the main international players to stop escalating and fueling conflict in Syria.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 27, 2013, on page 8.
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Chatham House / Syria / sectarianism / United Nations / Geneva II / Syria

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