Foreign Policy Chat - NATO criticized Syria, Senate Passes Human Rights Bill

NATO Scolds Syria, Turkey Grows Hostile

As tensions between Turkey and Syria grow, Tuesday's NATO meeting on the downing of a Turkish plane resulted in little more than a firm scolding for the Assad regime and a request that Syria behave better in the future.  NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday that the act was "unacceptable" and that he expects "Syria to take all necessary steps to avoid such events in the future."

With NATO expressing "a spirit of strong solidarity," Turkey escalated its condemnation of Syria's actions. The Turkish Prime Minister warned that Turkish forces would retaliate if Syrian forces approached its borders. According to Turkish media, tanks and military equipment have been sent to fortify the country's southeastern border with Syria.

Regardless of conflicting reports on the Turkish pilots' intentions, Turkey's outrage and the assurance of its allies' support has created a complex situation. The U.N.-led peace plan continues to flounder and the findings of an independent inquiry presented today at the U.N. Human Rights Council found that conditions on the ground are even worse now than before the ceasefire. Could Turkey be poised to make the next move against Assad's regime? Calls for the Arab League's endorsement of military intervention in Libya have set a precedent for using regional approval to legitimize Western intervention. However, the operation in Libya was supported by powers like the United States and France and no similar consensus currently exists for intervention in Syria. Having just finalized deals to extricate themselves from Egypt and Afghanistan, there appears to be little appetite in the West for more Middle Eastern military adventurism. This, combined with a lack of compelling tactical options and calls for fiscal restraint make it unlikely that that the U.S. or a western European nation would file in behind any kind of Turkish assault. Prime Minister Erdogan certainly relishes his country's role in NATO and has expansive regional ambitions, but few countries are likely to follow its lead if they insist on pushing the envelope much further.

Senate Unanimously Approves Russian Human Rights Bill

On Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act. The bill will now be attached to legislation that would give Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. The Senate version of the Magnitsky bill imposes financial and travel sanctions on any foreign official connected to human rights violations, in contrast with the House version that applies only to Russian officials. The bill's universal application seeks to placate the Russian government, which has threatened retaliation if the new rule is made in to law. Despite the softened language, Moscow condemned the Senate's actions.

Secretary of State Clinton said Tuesday that the Administration is working with Congress to find a way to address human rights concerns without injuring the relationship between the two countries. Extending PNTR is a priority for the White House and as Russia's July accession to the WTO approaches, reconciling human rights with trade liberalization requires a vexing balancing act.