Jordan's king calls on Syria's Assad to step down

 

King Abdullah's comments came in an exclusive BBC interview

Jordan's king has become the first Arab leader to openly say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stand down.

King Abdullah told the BBC that if he were in Mr Assad's position, he would make sure "whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo".

He urged President Assad to begin talks on an orderly transition of power.

Many Arab leaders have condemned the crackdown on months of protests in Syria. Dozens of deaths are reported in the latest unrest on Monday.

Both the Saudi and Qatari ambassadors left Damascus in protest at the repression. The Arab League voted on Saturday to suspend Syria's membership.

Start Quote

If Bashar has the interest of his country [at heart] he would step down”

End Quote King Abdullah

However King Abdullah went further than other Arab leaders in his exclusive interview with BBC World News television.

"If Bashar has the interest of his country [at heart] he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life," he said.

"That's the only way I would see it work and I don't think people are asking that question," he added.

King Abdullah warned there would be "more of the same" if whoever replaced President Assad did not change the status quo.

Defiance

Analysis

King Abdullah's remarks, coupled with the Arab League's decision to suspend Damascus, mark a turning point in the Arab world's approach to Syria.

But Jordan's monarch was emphatic that President Assad stepping down was not enough. His call to the Syrian leader was about changing a "system". He admitted that no-one was clear how to do that, and the Syrian regime still believed it was "in a fairly comfortable position".

King Abdullah, like many others, also emphasised there was great concern about "life after Bashar". He warned that any outside intervention in Syria would open "Pandora's box".

The relationship between two Arab leaders, seen as a new generation when they took over from their fathers, has been under growing strain. But King Abdullah said he still believed the Syrian leader had "reform in his blood". He had reached out to him earlier this year, even if, as he admitted, Jordan was not "by any means... a perfect story".

Jordan, which borders Syria, has been increasingly critical of the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Many Western powers have urged President Assad to stand down.

Both the EU and the US have said he has lost legitimacy but have ruled out military intervention.

The European Union on Monday tightened sanctions on Syria.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels added 18 Syrian officials to a list of people affected by a travel ban and asset freeze.

The ministers also approved moves to prevent Syria getting funds from the European Investment Bank.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he hoped the UN would finally impose its own sanctions on Syria.

Russia and China last month vetoed a Western-sponsored resolution condemning Damascus.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem reacted defiantly to the Arab League's suspension. He said the decision was illegal and vowed to overcome "conspiracies" against Damascus.

Growing foreign pressure

  • 10 June: Turkish PM condemns the "savagery" of the response to the unrest
  • 19 July: Qatar closes its embassy in Damascus after an attack by Assad loyalists
  • 8 August: Saudi Arabia condemns crackdown and recalls its envoy in Damascus
  • 10 August: US imposes new sanctions on Syrian telecom companies and banks
  • 18 August: US, UK, Germany and France call on President Assad to step down; US imposes full ban on oil imports
  • 12 November: Arab League suspends Syria from the organisation
  • 14 November: Jordanian king openly urges Mr Assad to go; EU tightens sanctions

The Arab League is set to hold another meeting to discuss Syria on Wednesday.

Russia on Monday condemned the suspension. "Someone really does not want the Syrians to agree among themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow.

In the latest violence, the Local Co-ordination Committees - a network of opponents to President Assad's rule - said 40 people had been killed on Monday, including 20 in the restive southern province of Deraa.

There are also reports that about 20 members of the security forces were killed in a clash with defectors from the Syrian army.

Such claims are impossible to verify as the Syrian government has severely restricted access for foreign journalists.

The UN says more than 3,500 people have died since the start of the protests in March while the Syrian authorities blame the violence on terrorists.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    The road to anything like an free, stable and secure way of life for the people of Syria will certainly be long and painful. But they are best to make a start and it is clear the people will not rest until the country as a whole has made a real and recognisable start.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 17.

    The comments are to be welcomed, if they bear out. I do think it's important to recognize that, while his own realm and others like Morocco need to implement changes and have been involved in repression, there's a difference between what is happening in those countries than ones like Syria; the scale of repression and death is hugely different. There's still hope for Jordan as things stand yet.

 
 

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