But even as shelling continued Monday in the city of Homs, the Western allies made clear that they had no plans for military action in Syria. Instead, U.S. and other officials spoke of tightening economic sanctions in the hope of strangling Assad’s government and persuading those around him to abandon him, as they look for ways to help the weak and unorganized Syrian opposition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was scheduled to visit Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian officials, but there was little optimism that the meetings would alleviate the crisis. Along with China, Russia vetoed the
anti-Assad resolution, and on Monday, Lavrov denounced “certain Western states” for what he called their “hysterical statements” about the veto.
The U.N. resolution’s proponents viewed the veto as a “Cold War curtain call” by Russia to protect its sole remaining ally in the Middle East against what it denounced as Western intervention, said a senior Arab diplomat.
“The big goal now is to figure out what people can do together outside the United Nations,” said the diplomat, speaking candidly on the condition of anonymity. “The issues themselves are going to be the same — an arms embargo, perhaps sanctions on individual bank accounts, travel bans. I don’t think there are any more, newer ideas.”
The Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf countries that drew up a transition plan for Yemen, has scheduled a meeting for Saturday to consider next steps on Syria. The Arab League will convene Sunday in Cairo.
Although a cooperative, Libya-like alliance could improve the flow of supplies into opposition strongholds, analysts said they do not expect to see Syria’s scattered resistance movement coalesce quickly into a fighting force.
“There’s a scramble now for options,” said Michael Singh, who was senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration. On one hand, arming the rebels would almost certainly “fuel the fighting and accelerate the descent into civil war,” Singh said. But doing nothing, he said, could make the inevitable conflict longer, bloodier and more dangerous.
Others noted that Assad still has a lifeline to Iran and Russia, as well as the potential for paramilitary support from groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
“For Obama, it highlights the painful reality that, despite his tough ‘Assad must go’ rhetoric, he’s neither willing nor able to do much more,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on the region to Democratic and Republic administrations and currently a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute.