Failure in Geneva
Representatives of the international community meeting in Geneva have agreed another plan to resolve the Syrian crisis, though observers believe this will have little impact on the regime, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus
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British Foreign MinisterWilliam Hague, left, speaks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov prior to ameeting of the Action Group for Syria at the Europeanheadquarters of the UnitedNations, in Geneva,Switzerland, Saturday
After weeks of preparation and differences between Russia and the West over the Syrian crisis, representatives of the international community met in Geneva on Saturday and agreed that Syria should put in place a national unity government to end the 15 months of protests against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
International envoy Kofi Annan said that the proposed interim government should include members of the incumbent government as well as the opposition and that leaving Al-Assad and members of his regime in power was a matter for the Syrian people to decide through political consensus, dialogue and negotiations.
As soon as the meeting, not attended by any representative of the Syrian regime or opposition, was over, discrepancies emerged between the US and Russian positions regarding the fate of Al-Assad.
Removing Al-Assad from the scene would be unacceptable to Moscow, and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that the agreement did not imply that Al-Assad should step down. "There are no preconditions for political transition in Syria," Lavrov said, whose country is a strong supporter of the Syrian regime. "The key point is that the agreement does not attempt to impose transition on Syria."
For her part, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her strong support for the conference's decisions, saying that they "send a clear message to President Al-Assad that he must step down and that his days are numbered."
As a result, anyone listening to Clinton and Lavrov would think that they had not been at the same meeting, implying that the outcome of the Geneva conference on Syria is ambiguous and open to interpretation.
It indicates that Russia and the West were unable to reach an agreement about a clear roadmap to resolve the Syrian crisis at the meeting.
According to the Syrian opposition, the outcome of the Geneva meeting is meaningless, and it will only extend the crisis since it does not propose a mechanism for implementation or a specific timeline.
It does not oblige any of the parties to implement the agreement. For the opposition, an interim government in Syria that is not slated as a transitional one, meaning that it does not possess the powers of the president, will not succeed in resolving the crisis.
The Geneva agreement does not specify the nature of the proposed interim government and it does not say whether or not it will have full powers. It also does not say whether the interim government will control the army, or whether this will continue to take orders from the president. It says nothing about the security forces and intelligence agencies that have played a major role in the killings associated with the Syrian crisis.
The agreement does not specify a timeline for implementation, and nor does it say how the Syrian regime will be persuaded to end the violence, withdraw the army from the cities, and launch a political dialogue with the opposition under international supervision.
Two days before the conference, Al-Assad sent a clear message to the participants that he would not recognise its decisions if these did not comply with the interests of the Syrian regime.
In an interview with Iranian television, Al-Assad said that "we will not accept any model that is not Syrian or not nationalist, whether it is proposed by world powers or friendly powers. No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do."
Al-Assad said he was confident that the Syrian crisis would not result in foreign military intervention in the country.
The Syrian opposition did not pin much hope on the Geneva meeting, most members saying that Annan was trying to extend the life of his six-point peace initiative for Syria, which the regime did not implement.
The opposition rejects any international solution that does not stipulate Al-Assad's departure from power, the resignation of the heads of the Syrian security and military agencies, as well as of Al-Assad's relatives and aides, and the prosecuting of those responsible for suspected war crimes.
"The Geneva meeting confirmed the impotence of the international position," said Ghassan Al-Mufleh, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC). "It should have focussed on two issues: first, the transition of power after the Al-Assad family leaves power, and second, establishing an immediate force for implementation. Without these things, the conference just extended the world's feeble position and the killing of our people."
"Amid the media cacophony, everyone has forgotten a simple truth: the Syrian people want a democratic state in every sense of the word. Annan also forgot this because of the Russian position, and he is now talking about 'parties' in a political and violent conflict, which demonstrates the absurdity of this initiative."
Annan's proposals in Geneva on political transition in Syria were unlike earlier ones because Russia had asked him to amend the original plan, as it does not agree with Al-Assad's stepping down. A series of meetings between Russia and Western officials took place before the conference started, but they did not convince the Russians to change their position.
In line with Russia's hardline position, Al-Assad himself declared a "state of war" in Syria last week, less than one week before the Geneva conference, without specifying whom Syria is at war with. In an address to the new cabinet, Al-Assad said that "we are living under war conditions in every sense of the word, and thus all our resources will be diverted in this direction."
The Syrian opposition said that Al-Assad was indeed at war -- with his own people and their revolution. As a result, any notion of dialogue with the regime would be a form of treason and taking up arms was a political duty, it said.
It also said that financial, political or military assistance to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), including constructing a political leadership, was now more essential than ever.
While the major world powers of Russia, the US, France, China and the UK were meeting at the UN Security Council, along with Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, the UN secretary-general and the Arab League secretary-general, Syria itself saw further massacres and destruction during the bombings of several regions.
In Zamlaka on the edge of Damascus, 75 people were killed by mortar fire targeting the funeral procession of a dead activist. Meanwhile, hundreds of artillery shells rained on the town of Deraa in the south, bringing the total number of people killed in the country to 150 that day alone.
"The massacres committed by the regime in Damascus are unjustified by law, morality or politics," Nasser Al-Ghazali, director of the Damascus Centre for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies (DCTCRS), told Al-Ahram Weekly. "They are done out of madness, genocide, spite, hatred and vengeance against a people who have broken through the fear barrier and are eager for freedom and dignity."
Former SNC chair Borhan Ghalyoun described the Geneva meeting as "a farce, in which Security Council members have adopted Russia's diktats and abandoned their duty towards the people of Syria. The people are left with no other choice but to embark on a war of liberation."
Meanwhile, the opposition Local Coordination Committees urged officers and soldiers in the regular army to desert their posts and "leave the regime to sink," saying that weapons that the Syrian people had paid for were now being aimed at their fathers, mothers, sons and brothers and used to destroy their homes and livelihoods.
"The regime will fall," it said. "The earlier you abandon it and in larger numbers, the more you will save Syria from further suffering and tragedy."
The Geneva plan is likely to be referred to the UN Security Council for further scrutiny and to propose a mechanism to implement it. However, the outcome of any such move is uncertain because of the Russian veto that has so far blocked any UN resolution that could undermine the Syrian regime.
Some observers believe that perhaps the Geneva outcomes are broad enough that they can give rise to further deliberation, while others say they are a political scam and an opportunity to buy time until the various parties are able to find a solution that suits them all.
A leading figure in the opposition Coordination Body of Forces for Democratic Change told the Weekly that "key states will try to implement their agenda and create suitable conditions for it. They will work on two fronts, first by thwarting the efforts of others, and second by making their own agenda successful. No one was expecting any serious outcomes in Geneva, but all the parties need to be seen to be taking action either for their own citizens or for international moral or political reasons."
"This meeting and others are a waste of time until the conditions are suitable to implement the plan of the strongest player. The Syrian regime will manipulate this opportunity to deal with the cities that are rebelling against it and to thwart the people's movement and revolution."
Meanwhile, developments on the ground in Syria indicate that the uprising is expanding and that the revolutionary brigades are becoming better armed by the day. This could change the balance of power dramatically, especially since defections from the regular army are continuing and the FSA is growing larger.
Some reports indicate that the FSA now controls 40 per cent of Syria, and perhaps the international community is counting on it to lead the overthrow of the regime and to take over power during the interim phase.
A glance at the Arab and international initiatives that have been put forward to resolve the Syrian crisis shows that partial solutions and ambiguous political processes have been ineffective. The Geneva conference will remain similarly inconsequential as long as it is irrelevant to the reality on the ground in Syria, and as long as it does not have a deadline for forming a new government with a full mandate, or guarantee regime change that is pluralist and democratic and that enshrines the notion of the rotation of power.