Syria – the UK analysis changes
The National Security Council is taking a look at a bunch of options on Syria, as Nick Robinson reported. The PM clearly thinks Syria has moved from being a ghastly but self-contained civil conflict to a strategic concern with what looks like pretty much guaranteed spill-over into wider impact.
It seems like David Cameron’s view now is that Syria is not just a humanitarian tragedy but is looking like one of those mushrooming problems that will come on to everyone’s radar in a few months’ time. It could be a serious new engine of jihadist recruitment and could destabilise the entire region on a big scale.
So the analysis is no longer “there’s nowt much we can do” but “we should explore what can be done to limit Syria’s wider impact.”
As with Libya, there are signs of movement on French policy too. That said, the NSC will be acutely aware that nothing can happen on Syria policy without the US. In a sense, today’s meeting isn’t preparing for British action it is, at this stage, preparing for a conversation with Washington. President Obama’s administration used to take the same “nowt much we can do here” view as the FCO on Syria. London assumes that is now changing faced with the same facts as we are looking at.
The options list will probably look a lot like the one that was first put in front of the NSC when action against Libya was considered – air action, no fly zones and everything from direct support to rebels to logistical support and urging third countries to give direct support.
We are some way off a change in policy but if there is one then today’s meeting will have been a staging post.
It looks like the government could be days from recognising the newly unified Syrian opposition. That could come as soon as Tuesday, when William Hague is due to make a statement to the Commons.
The foreign secretary will meet the Syrian opposition in London tomorrow and press them on how inclusive they intend to be. There are some concerns in Whitehall that not all groups in Syria are fully included in the group coming to London. Syria is not like Libya where the government/opposition broadly broke down into a pretty straightforward geographical division.
In Syria, the divisions can be street by street. Britain is not expected to follow the French in jumping in and recognising Friday’s visitors as effectively “the government in waiting”. London could well end up recognising them as “a” legitimate representative body of the Syrian people rather than “the” legitimate representative.
That same reserve can be expected on the EU arms embargo – the French have already asked for it to be lifted and the UK will take more convincing.
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