Monday, June 20, 2011

President Assad's 'defining moment' speech is anything but

Syrian president concedes need for some change in first public address in two months, but it will do little to quell mounting anger

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Monday 20 June 2011

"Bashar al-Assad's latest attempt to draw the sting from the Syrian uprising was replete with a drearily familiar litany of blame – foreign conspiracies, germs, fomentors of chaos, Muslim extremism – for the ills that have befallen his country.

But it is a measure of how much pressure he feels both at home and abroad that there were at least some admissions of the need for change – to be considered through a "national dialogue" that will address central political and economic issues. It was, he said, in that phrase beloved of politicians everywhere, "a defining moment".....

Two previous presidential speeches, in late March and mid-April, failed to appease mounting anger at the regime at a time when the death toll was far lower and the geographical spread of unrest far more limited. Initial reactions by the Syrian opposition were predictably dismissive.

Nor will Assad have satisfied his critics abroad. The US has sharpened its tone in recent days, as have the once-friendly Turks and the Russians, who are still blocking a UN security council resolution but putting out feelers to the opposition.

Assad's speech reflects the gravity of his position. But, at first glance, it doesn't look or feel anything like a defining moment."

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