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 64.

    Why is the proposal of an International Peace Conference to address the Syrian issue "lame" ?

    Syria is a vital piece of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle. Continuing violence and chaos there will lead to a dangerous vortex developing which will draw in other nations.

    Prayers for Syria.

  • Comment number 63.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Just let the Syrians get on with it and resolve things themselves in their own sweet way. The western nations will not be thanked for getting involved nor will we get any benefit. My can our poilitican just not learn to keep their interfering hands out of other affairs. Maybe they should solve their own nations problems before looking overseas

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's similar to the Lebanese civil war. That lasted 15 years.

    I would say the best chance is for an armistice on sectarian lines. pressure Turkey and the Gulf states to halt their activities. Muslim peace keepers from countries such as Malaysia & Pakistan deploy to separate Sunnis and Shias.

    Only problem is I don't think the belligerent Iranians will agree to cease their activities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The real issue is not intervention, the UN could legally intervene to enforce a peace/truce, but that the UK and US want intervention to lead to regime change.

    55. MagicKirin

    "...fine with poison gas and sophisticated weapon getting in the nads of Hezbollah." I'm sure this was just a typo, but it was a particularly humorous one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    They both desperately need to put more of our young men and women in uniform in jeopardy, hospital and graves. Nothing short of perpetuating the 'leaders of heroes' myths will keep them in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    45. Political
    "The US and UK have no right to intervene in Syria, they have created havoc death and misery in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya by intervening.
    It seems Russia has to lead the way in Global affairs !"

    Totally agree.

    Syria was a peaceful, secular nation before the so-called 'Arab Spring'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Surely the issue is there's isn't an easy solution. After being duped over protecting civilians aka regime change in Libya, China and Russia aren't likely to fall for the same trick again.
    The "red line" on chemical weapons spoken by Obama could well be a problem issue if as the UN suspects it was the Rebels who used them.
    In order for peace to exists BOTH sides have to stop fighting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    MagicKirin @ 55 said:
    "Syrian forces have attacked or shot missles into the terriotry of our two chief allies in the region Israel and Turkey."

    'Chief Allies' - are you serious?

    Both lie and orchestrate covert operations in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    For those saying do nothing. you seem to forget a couple of things. Syrian forces have attacked or shot missles into the terriotry of our two chief allies in the region Israel and Turkey. And even though Erdogan has been a disgrace Turkey is still a Nato member.
    Some of you are also fine with poison gas and sophisticated weapon getting in the nads of Hezbollah

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I would guess the overarching problem with addressing this situation proactively is western economies failing to keep pace with the Arab Spring, whilst forces are being spread too thinly eleswhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    If Assad weakened his resolve & turned his back on the Syrian people then Hague, Cameron, Kerry & Obama could watch in glee as the various ideological & mercenary groups massacre each other

    Fortunately, the terrorist have driven most peace-loving citizens into refugee camps so hopefully they will avoid the bloodbath

    All done in the name of Christan democracy - disgraceful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    There is no conundrum. Obama and Cameron are being disingenuous. Middle Eastern people do not want Western democracy; they want hegemony for their particular group/tribe/sect. Urban liberal(ish) Middle Easterners feel more secure with a dictator like Assad. The real threat to the West is radical Islam. Why do we insist on opening the door for them time after time? I'm sure this will not end well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I doubt there is any answer to this stalemate; the democratic revolution seems to have run out of steam, Assad's forces still have all the heavy arms and hold at least half of the country; the west has dillied and dallied til it's now probably too late, short of a boots-on-the-ground situation which no western power (and, indeed, no middle eastern power) wants. Let them find their own perdition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Syria & other countries that may be at war should stop fighting and have some nice peace talks. Then hopfully we should have world peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The west needs to leave the failed democratic projects across the middle east/asia and stay well clear of Syria's problems.
    We have no allies in the Islamic states and the only common point should be trade, as for visa's and aid save it for our civilised allies.
    This country hosts far too many enemies as it is and it seems our national security is taken with a pinch of salt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    They have no answers because they are trying to tackle the wrong problem.

    It never ceases to amaze me how one dictator is the enemy because he's a dictator, yet other dictators are perfectly fine. It is ALWAYS about money rather than human life.

    All wars are bankers wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The US armed the Mujahadeen in Afganistan so they could defeat the Russians. This led to the Taliban and unlimitately led the west into a protracted war in Afganistan. Are we going to do the same in Syria? We have no idea what will happen if the rebals win but it is none of our business and we should stay out. Do politicians never learn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    42. Claphambusman. If the end of civilisation, due to war in Syria, is a Bilical Prophecy, what is the point of our leaders getting "up to speed" when faced with such inevitability? Simply stating that something might happen unless someone does something (unspecified) about it - isn't terribly clever. Maybe the Bible (Eye for an Eye and Turn the Other Cheek); may be mistaken on this as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The US and UK have no right to intervene in Syria, they have created havoc death and misery in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya by intervening.

    It seems Russia has to lead the way in Global affairs !


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