• The military alliance said there is not enough support at the UN or in the region (Photo: Nato)

Nato rules out military intervention in Syria

30.06.11 @ 18:24

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said there will be no military intervention in Syria despite similar levels of government-sponsored violence as in Libya.

Speaking in Vienna on Thursday (30 June) after a meeting with foreign minister Michael Spindelegger, the Nato chief told press: "We do not foresee any intervention in Syria. In Libya, we are working on the basis of a UN mandate with the support of countries in the region. The conditions on Syria are not similar."

Syrian tanks on Wednesday reportedly killed 11 people in the Turkey border area, with the death count since unrest began three months ago estimated at some 1,500 people.

The Syrian military build-up on the Turkish frontier has raised fears of a clash between the two rival powers in the region.

Regional tensions intensified further on Thursday following reports that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), an EU-and-US-backed judicial body set up to investigate the assassination of a Lebanese leader in 2005, has indicted four Hezbollah officials.

Hezbollah is an ally of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, with analysts saying the guerrilla army could seek a conflict with Israel to distract from the STL process or the Assad repressions.

UK foreign minister William Hague in the British parliament on Wednesday spoke of Lybia and Syria in the same breath as two regimes guilty of brutalities which threaten to destabilise neighbouring states.

"We can stand up against repression and violence, which we have seen taken to extremes in Libya and Syria," he said.

He noted that a Franco-British draft UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria, which condemns violence but is far softer than UNSC 1973 authorising military strikes in Libya, does not have enough backing to be put to a vote, however.

He also declined to follow France in saying that Syrian leader Bashar Assad should step down.

"If we are to maintain international unity of pressure on Syria, we must be careful in how we phrase such things," Hague noted. "Foreign policy is not conducted in a bunker, where we do not communicate with people with whom we disagree. We [still] have diplomatic relations with Syria," he added.

Nato's Rasmussen and Hague in the two separate fora defended Nato's actions in Libya against accusations that it has overstepped its mandate to protect civilians.

Rasmussen said "there is no mission creep" and ruled out use of ground forces, but noted that operations will continue until Gaddafi is out of power as the only guarantee of a peaceful transition.

Reacting to MPs' questions that Nato strikes in Tripoli seem to be aimed at killing Colonel Gaddafi, Hague said: "To characterise the campaign as an assassination campaign is wrong ... Our targeting depends on the behaviour of those involved, and it has included the command systems of the Gaddafi regime."

Perception that Nato is in the business of regime change in Libya rather than protecting civilians, as mandated by UNSC 1973, is the main reason for opposition to any UN move on Syria in key swing UNSC voters - Brazil, India and South America.