Tuesday

30th May 2017

EU ambassadors' wives in YouTube diplomacy on Syria

Wives of the British and German ambassadors to the UN have launched a graphic and personal appeal to Syria's first lady to stop the killing of children.

Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant published a video on YouTube on Monday (16 April) which shows pictures of dead Syrian children alongside images of the 36-year-old and British-born Asma Assad in glamourous make-up and clothes.

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  • Asma Assad was called a 'rose in the desert' by Vogue magazine last year (Photo: YouTube.com)

The voiceover accompanying the clip says: "Asma, when you kiss your own children goodnight another mother will find the place next to her empty."

The video and accompanying online petition got around 25,000 clicks and 3,700 signatures by Wednesday morning.

It comes after EU foreign ministers last month put Asma center stage by imposing sanctions on the president's wife. Some commentators, such as Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent for British daily The Independent, believe she has used what influence she has to try to mitigate violence.

But other experts, such as Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who now writes for Time magazine, say the Western spotlight on Asma is designed to distract attention from its unwillingness to take real action.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told MEPs in Brussels on Tuesday that the bloc is ready to impose more sanctions and to provide helicopters and communications equipment for a UN monitoring mission. French foreign minister Alain Juppe told press in Paris that EU sanctions have already halved Syria's currency reserves to an estimated $8 billion.

There is still no talk of freezing Syrian wire transfers in the so-called Swift system operated out of Brussels, as with Iran, however. The EU and US are also ruling out arming rebels or imposing a no-fly zone, as in Libya.

There are six UN monitors in Damascus so far, amid reports that the ceasefire is being widely flouted. Another 30 are to arrive shortly if Syria agrees, and 220 more to follow to cover a country bigger than half the size of France.

Russia - Syria's main ally and arms supplier - has formally backed the UN initiative.

But its intelligence services - which have a monopoly on outside information on what is happening in the country - are telling Western security services that the opposition is also guilty of mass-scale atrocities.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday stirred controversy by saying that "outside powers" - alluding to Syria's regional enemies Qatar and Saudi Arabia - want the UN mission to "fail" and "are doing a lot to see to it that this ... comes true."

Lavrov's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, also highlighted that the original chief of the UN monitoring team - Norwegian general Robert Mood - has quit and gone back home without giving any public explanation. He is "sort of fleeing his position in the middle of action" the Russian diplomat said.

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