U.S. Condemns “Ridiculous” Syrian Elections Held Amid Violence

UN observers in Syria
A Syrian boy talks with U.N. observers during their visit to Hama. The United States says attacks against the observers are “deplorable.”

By Stephen Kaufman,
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
May 15, 2012

Syria’s May 7 parliamentary elections were “an illegitimate process” illegitimately timed while violence in the country continued, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, and the United States does not consider them to be free, fair, transparent or representative of the will of the Syrian people.

“We consider it pretty ridiculous to try to have voting in the middle of the kind of violence and lack of harmony and unity that we see in Syria right now. So we don’t put a lot of stock in these elections,” Nuland told reporters May 15.

According to United Nations estimates, at least 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011.

The United States is “deeply concerned about the escalating violence on the ground, the country’s deepening sectarianism,” Nuland said, as well as the Assad regime’s failure to allow the political transition outlined in U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. The plan calls for a “Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people,” as well as an end to violence, the release of political prisoners, freedom to demonstrate peacefully, and free access throughout the country for humanitarian aid and journalists.

The Assad regime has failed to live up to any parts of Annan’s plan, and “not only is the regime still firing on its own people, not only has it not pulled back its heavy weapons, but this has created a climate where violence by other spoilers is increasingly common,” Nuland said, referring to recent attacks targeting Syrian security forces.

Nuland said the opposition Syrian National Council has distanced itself from the violent attacks and explosions that occurred outside of Damascus and elsewhere, and other groups have claimed responsibility for the violence.

But she said for a long time there has been a concern that “the longer Assad perpetrated violence himself, allowed and fostered a climate of violence, the more folks who don’t have the best interests of Syrians at heart would exploit that situation. And we’re seeing more of that.”

She also called the targeting of U.N. observers in the country “deplorable.”

The observers “are there in an unarmed capacity to try to bring about a commitment by the Assad regime and by all actors in Syria to, first and foremost, to cease fire. To fire on them is to undo the future for Syrians,” Nuland said.

There are currently around 250 U.N. monitors inside Syria. Nuland said that in areas where they are able to be present, “we see violence stop, we see peaceful demonstrations begin again, we see people able to gather and talk about a transition.”

“But whenever monitors have to leave, the violence resumes. So we remain concerned that we continue to have a regime that has not lived up to its commitments,” Nuland said.

To put pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence and allow a peaceful transition, the United States, the Arab League and the European Union have enacted sanctions that have had a “profound” effect on the Syrian economy, forcing Assad to “run through more than half of his reserves,” and forced the value of the Syrian currency to plummet, she said.

The United States hopes the sanctions will “affect the thinking” of those in the Syrian political and business classes who are still supporting Assad, and who “have to see that there’s no future for them, for their families, for their country, if they stick with this guy and those in the military who continue to obey orders to fire,” Nuland said.

At the same time, she said, there have been more troops defecting from the regime’s security forces, and more Syrians have been moving their families and assets outside of the country.