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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Well if your right, then Israel is about to bomb Russia
    Maybe your analogy is wrong or Israel isn't that brave?

    In 67, Israel was essentially fighting the Soviets who were behind encouraging & supplying the Arabs.

    The Russians have admitted they painted their own fighter jets in Egyptian colours & had planned to send Russian pilots into war.

    Israel swatted the enemy in 6 days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    100"Well if your right, then Israel is about to bomb Russia regardless of the consequences?"

    It could if it wanted to. It has the capability to nuke Russia's major cities. Not with missiles or planes as delivery systems but covertly just as terrorists would if they got their hands on nukes. It's very unlikely though, no real chance of that IMO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    ref #101

    Drones are great we should use them more.

    ref #96

    The Arab league should learn their role and shut their mouth. Israel is not subject to Sharia barbarians

  • Comment number 101.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    sieuarlu @ 97:
    "Russian supply of missiles to Syria is a direct threat to Israel's security.....Your analogy is dead wrong... Israel will defend itself no matter what the consequences."

    Well if your right, then Israel is about to bomb Russia regardless of the consequences?

    Maybe your analogy is wrong or Israel isn't that brave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    If we propose peace then we will have to find a way for Syrians to freely express their views on what they want, without the threat of the various Syrian secret police services.
    I cannot see any point in arming the rebels, what weapons are they short of? But a no-fly zone can do nothing but reduce the violence, so that would be a positive move,

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "Hitler used talk like that to whip up hatred."

    Had Imperial Japan not attacked US,and Hitler not subsequently declared a war on US, United States might have stayed out of WWII, and never created the Western Front to save at least half of Europe from the Soviet occupation.

    [I notice this blog is still in English, not in German or Russian]

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    95Russian supply of missiles to Syria is a direct threat to Israel's security.Israel is believed to be a nation with a major nuclear arsenal including fusion weapons.There's already talk of nuclear war in the middle east due to Russian supported nuclear weapons development in Iran.Your analogy is dead wrong.Israel will defend itself no matter what the consequences.It can end human life on earth.

  • Comment number 96.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    sieuarlu @ 93:

    Using your logic, both the US and Russia should bomb each other for supplying arms to various adversaries.

    Think before you write - Hitler used talk like that to whip up hatred.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Re #87

    Russia doesn't only risk losing its last naval base in the ME.

    It also risks to have rich Arab oil states (Saudi Arabia, etc.) increase its logistic support for Russia's Muslims. Especially in the Caucasus.

    It's Putin's choice.

    And re S-300 system for Syria... Do you remember "Arctic Sea"allegedly hijacked by pirates? And sheepishly returning to Russia with ditto for Iran?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    The Israeli air strike to stop Syrian weapons, probably including chemical weapons and missiles from being shipped to Hezbollah in Lebanon was entirely justified and legal.No apology or excuse is required.Those who hate Jews, hate Israel, think that a Jewish state should not exist because they scapegoat Jews for their own failures in life will use any excuse to criticize Israel.The US ignores them

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Why should they be concerned with Syria? Is there nothing else at home or in the world to be concerned about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    "Israel wants Syria's airspace to bomb Iran."

    Israel won't need to ask Syria for a permission to destroy Islamist Iran's nuclear centers.

    Just as when it destroyed North Korean-built nuclear reactor in northern Syria.

    And before it didn't ask Saudi Arabia to fly over its desert to destroy Saddam Hussein's French-built reactor in Osirak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The Syria dispute is not as slick and quick as they would have liked and has turned quite ugly. Too may factions at play here with all sides having potential war crime debates looming over them.
    The innocents caught up in all this I feel for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    ref #75
    Now we have a terrible situation of a state killing its own. But still Israel is the big bad boy
    Thats because racism against Jews is still acceptible in much of the world. Even Desmond Tutu would not get the past if his comments were about moslems or Hindus

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    MagicKirin @ 76 said:
    "Only intolerant people like Hawking and Lennox and the islamists are anti-Israel in either country. Who do you support Lebanon or Iran?"

    I support peace and the sanctity of sovereign nations.

    Syria was peaceful before the Arab Spring and you know it.

    Israel declared war on Syria & bombed sovereign terrority without UN backing.

    Israel wants Syria's airspace to bomb Iran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    84Russia is supporting Iran's bid to become a nuclear weapons power, an incredibly stupid move on their part IMO.Not only does this increase the risk of a major war between Israel and Iran, it risks those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists like Hezbollah and al Qaeda and eventually being used against Russia itself.Russia has good reason to fear Islamic terrorists who will stop at nothing

  • Comment number 86.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    My political acumen tells me that a subversive/covert war has already begun between Israel & Iran - with Syria in the way; but by what idiocy would any western country arm or even support the rabble of "rebels" - many from Libya, many associated with that great "terrorist" entity Al Qaeda. Do we support terrorism to create more terror in the future? Has fear become our greatest weapon?


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