Last updated: 3 September, 2013

G20 can break Syria deadlock, says Bosnia war negotiator

Former Bosnian war mediator David Owen on Tuesday urged world leaders at this week’s G20 summit to break the deadlock over Syria, saying Germany, India, Japan and Brazil could push Russia towards a diplomatic solution.

Owen told AFP there was scope for leaders to agree on UN-supervised removal of chemical weapons from Syria, even if they disagreed on whether President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind an alleged poison gas attack last month.

The co-author of the Vance-Owen peace plan in 1993, which failed to put an end to the Bosnian war, said taking military action against Assad would not stop the use of chemical weapons and could spark a regional conflict.

“I believe that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin can be persuaded, by India, Brazil, Japan, all of whom are going to be at G20, that this is a time now for the (UN) Security Council to end their deadlock and come up with a constructive solution and rally everyone around, removing all chemical weapons from Syria,” Owen said.

“And from that can flow a ceasefire, from that can flow the conference (in Geneva) starting very soon.”

He said it was “utterly sterile to spend our whole time arguing about the fact of who did or did not use chemical weapons.”

“I don’t believe American military action would stop anyone who used those chemical weapons,” he said.

His comments on the Syria crisis came after a Downing Street spokesman said British Prime Minister David Cameron would push Russia for a diplomatic solution at the Group of 20 meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Friday.

Owen said the G20 had to pressure both Putin and US President Barack Obama, who is awaiting approval from Congress to take military action against Syria, to reach a settlement.

“No-one’s in a better place to do it than the European members of G20 — with Angela Merkel, who has no dog in this fight, she has said that Germany is not going to be involved — she is widely respected in Russia and the United States — and to bring together Britain, France, Germany and Italy,” Owen said.

“And that would be powerful in my view.”

If China could be brought on board to win Russia’s support then Putin would almost certainly be able to use his influence to persuade Assad to come to the negotiating table, Owen said.

Owen, the first British politician to openly back a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, said Russia and China felt betrayed by allowing UN-backed action in Libya which then led to regime change.

The ex-British foreign secretary and former EU special envoy to the former Yugoslavia now sits in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British parliament, where he is known as Lord Owen.

The Syria conflict has drawn frequent comparisons with the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict and the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict, both of which came to an end after NATO airstrikes.