Cameron and Obama's endless Syria conundrum

Barack Obama and David Cameron eat hot dogs at a basketball match - 13 March 2012 There will be no time for hot dogs on Mr Cameron's latest visit to Washington

David Cameron's meeting with President Obama at the White House is likely to be dominated by Syria. Don't hold your breath for any great new announcements.

The UK prime minister is in the US partly for a big meeting at the UN on global development and partly for an event with Prince Harry, also in New York.

So his meeting with the president is something added on, rather than the centrepiece of his trip. That means it will be strictly business - no playing of ping pong or sampling of BBQ. As well as Syria, they will talk about Iran, transatlantic trade (the proposed deal with the EU is now known in the trade as "tee tip") and probably North Korea.

Doubtless the president will want to know the latest about the prime minister's proposed referendum on membership of the European Union and his troublesome colleagues' willingness to turn a political face-saver into a real choice. While some in Britain dream of leaving the EU and strengthening the transatlantic relationship it its place, America values what the president calls the "essential relationship" in part as a bridge to Europe. If it turns into a bridge to nowhere, it will trouble them.

But Syria is the hard case. Both Europe and the US are slowly inching towards arming the rebels. But that commonplace phrase disguises the fact that the "arms" will be well short of anything the rebels actually want to finish this protracted business.

For months now, the noises from Western capitals have vacillated between the cry "Something must be done!" and the forlorn reply "But what?"

One rather lame answer is the idea of a peace conference dangled by Russia.

But there's not much diplomatic chatter about the proposal, which seems more like a passing thought than a hard plan. I get the impression that the US and Europe will go along with what they privately regard as a bit of a charade only because they have no better ideas.

Which brings us back to "arming the rebels" and allied concepts like a no-fly zone.

Enthusiasts insist it isn't that difficult - find the right sort of rebels and give them the weapons they need. But as one insider put it to me: "What if we give the minority we trust the good stuff and five miles down the road they run into a road block and Islamist nutters take it off them? How does that help?"

No-one has any particularly good answers to this conundrum. We'll see today if the two leaders can come up with anything that squares the circle.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    We are in it whether we like it or not. Therefore, it is best not to sweep under the carpet. Our options are to go in or leave them alone. Which one is more dangerous for the West? Having anti-West rebels in power? Or go in to make sure of a pro-Western regime but put lives at risk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Why are we giving support to terrorists? Did the Syrian government use chemical weapons against another country? No! Will these terrorists use captured chemical weapons against Israel? Bet your bottom dollar they will..If the Syrian government falls we will soon regret supporting the rebels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I’m starting to think like Obama. Just wait longer, guy. You’re good at that.

    Obama’s red line is now a “systematic use of” chemical weapons. Could mean anything.

    He may enter at the 11th hour, to ‘help’: “Winner, we was always rootin’ for ya.”

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Interfering in the internal events of another country trying to put down a rebellion within its own borders is ridiculous, dangerous, and makes absolutely no sense.

    Must we always be at war? Must we always invade other nations? Is it never possible to be at peace?

    I can only think that other than insanity, the only possible reason to push for war is profiteering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I want the UK in the EU so that it can promote the principles of English Common Law across Europe.

    That to me represents true progress when viewed in the context of human civilization.

    Otherwise, I'm confident the UK can stand on its own. It has been around a long time, and it has friends in high places should it need them.

    I don't it will, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I think they'd find better answers if they looked at what they should'nt do. A list that includes, not bombing syria, not supplying military equipment short of medical aid to rebels. Going against Russia in the UN remember Russia is pretty much a neighbour of Syria. I wonder how different things would be if it was Mexico we was talking about for example. Let Russia have a go at solving it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Why is the US-EU Trade Agreement (Tee-tip) not also capable of being the template for a new EEC Treaty agreement to replace the Treaties of Rome, Maastrict, et al?

    If the US joins in a EU Trade Agreement (like the UK did) will they be forced to join the Euro & introduce 20% VAT? I think not.

    I always enjoyed the Peter Sellars Movie "The Mouse That Roared".

    Perhaps we should invade the US?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    1. Clinton calls Assad a "reformer" and asks he be given time to reform.
    2. Kofi Anan, then Brahimi are sent to negotiate a ceasefire and compromise between Assad and rebels.
    3. New Syrian National Council formed in Doha to form post Assad gov.
    4. Obama and Putin call for new gov. made up of old regime and opposition

    One US plan fails after another. US stay away, the rebels are wise to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.


    Remember, we plebs can't get rid of Just call me Dave - only the Parliamentary Conservative Party can mount a coup. HYS is a useful tool to wind up the Backbenchers who are only interested in saving their own skins.

    You are correct, the re-elected Obama could not give a jot about Dave's problems.

    He's the American President - not ours.

    I'd sell Buckingham Palace tomorrow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I have no sympathy for either side in this war. I don't think most Americans do either. Let them kill each other. Where are the confidence building measures for peace in the middle east now? None left and none in sight. They are cruel and ruthless on both sides and neither side would be an ally or asset to the US. So let's just stay out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The Assad regime is supported by Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. The Rebels appear to be aligned with Al-Qaeda, al-Nursa and other Jihadist fighters. It's a mess - weapons given to the rebels could easily end up in the wrong hands.

    Meanwhile, ordinary Syrian civilians are caught in the middle

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    There is nothing we can do to help the rebels apart from giving them arms and letting them fight it out with the regime. When the dust settles then west can go in help them to rebuild. Iran and Russia will just keep feeding weapons and money into this war and I can't see a end of sight to this war for maybe another year or more

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Mark, as you're travelling with Just call Me Dave, would you pose this question:
    "Would it not satisfy voters across Europe, not just in the UK, if the EU Federal Structural Plan was scrapped, and replaced with a British authored plan, to create a European Free Trade Zone, similar to the EEC of old?"


  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    10 "Dave should be demanding huge US investment in the UK"

    Dave is in no position to demand anything of the US and President Obama is in no position to comply if he wanted to. President Obama's first and only concern now is investment in the US. The UK and EU will have to take their beggar bowl elsewhere. China already said no.Maybe the UK could sell them something. Buckingham Palace?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It's reported in your article that "The US/EU are expected to begin talks on the pact in July and hope to finish in one to two years."
    Call Me Dave will be out-of-office by then!

    He has no chance whatsoever of being relected - unless he can turn the economy around in the next 12 months. Dave should be demanding huge US investment in the UK - not the EU - just the UK. We need that now!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This will likely evolve into a regional sectarian war with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey supporting the so called moderates on the Sunni side, al Qaeda and its affiliates supporting Sunni extremists, and Iran and Hezbollah supporting the Assad regime. For the small minority Alawites who controlled Syria this may be a matter of survival as there would likely be many reprisals if the Sunnis win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    here's an answer - it's their mess, LEAVE THEM BE! or perhaps we fund the rebels and create another Al Qaeda? Or keep the murderous tyrant in power? We'd be damned either way so let's instead choose to not give the middle east any more reason to hate us! Please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    President Obama really put his foot in his mouth when he said chemical weapons would be a red line. Now if it's determined Syria's gov't used them he either must act or his threats will always be seen as empty, unreliable at the very least.It's a matter of credibility. The best US move is to stay out of this war. It's not our fight. Whichever side wins they won't be on our side.Lead from behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Obama has little time for Cameron after him bragging that he refused to take Obama's call because of paying tennis. Cameron is crude and offensive

    Harry is sent out on a charm offensive to the US, he as more charm in than Cameron's entire ignorant obnoxious persona.

    Harry better brush up an his Russian he might have better luck dealing with Putin than Cameron did on his recent Russian visit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Syria, a country I've visited, is only on the radar in relation to ensuring Iraqi oil can be easily piped to Europe via the Med - isolating Iran.
    Getting rid of Assad is simple, the tricky bit is ensuring we, the West, control the winning faction.

    We're also gambling that the Islamic Zealots, backed by Iran, won't win. The more delay, the more Zealots perish in battle.

    War is a cruel game.


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