Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Jumping to Geneva 2

Opinions have varied over what was agreed at last year’s Geneva 1 meeting of the Syrian opposition, so perhaps it is time to move on to Geneva 2

Al-Ahram Weekly

Though some 23 months have now passed since the start of the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the fighting continues while humanitarian conditions deteriorate and the destruction spreads haphazardly across the country.

The regime is still using heavy weaponry against the protesters, even as the political opposition has recently signaled that it would be willing to discuss a political solution based on international resolutions, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus.

The Syrian opposition held a conference in Geneva recently attended by civil and democratic political groups from the opposition inside Syria. On the agenda were proposals to end the crisis that is still besetting the country and the rejection of attempts to militarise the uprising further. There was also condemnation of the armed extremist groups that have begun to move onto the scene.

The opposition groups at the Geneva meeting launched a new initiative to end the crisis, most importantly by accepting the Geneva 1 Agreement approved by the major world players in June last year, which urged all sides to end the fighting and launch negotiations under international supervision.

In accepting the terms of the Geneva 1 Agreement, the opposition parties asked for a “Geneva 2” conference to be held that would outline binding mechanisms under Chapter VI of the UN charter.

They would negotiate with the regime under the terms set out under the Geneva 1 Agreement, the opposition parties said, with the proviso that the negotiations took place under international supervision with the aim of forming a government to manage the transitional phase until presidential elections were held, also under international supervision.

Hours after the opposition in Geneva announced its acceptance of negotiations with the regime, Moez Al-Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition of National and Opposition Forces (SNCF), which has been recognised by 130 countries as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and is the umbrella group for opposition groups outside the country, said that he would be willing to sit down with the regime if it released the estimated 160,000 political prisoners currently held in Syrian prisons and issued new identity documents to Syrians living abroad.

However, the initiative has not been welcomed by the protesters themselves, since there is little confidence that any new set of international proposals will be able to resolve the crisis. Meanwhile, Al-Khatib’s offer has been rejected even by his own SNCF, which said that his statements did not represent the position of the coalition and contradicted the group’s founding charter that prohibited dialogue or negotiations with the regime.

The original Geneva 1 Agreement had identified principles for resolving the Syrian crisis by putting an end to the violence under international supervision and creating a transitional government composed of opposition and regime figures. However, it did not say anything about Al-Assad’s future or that of key figures in the regime, and there was a clear lack of agreement between the US and Russia on this issue.

For Moscow, Al-Assad’s withdrawal from the scene was not an option, while Washington believed that Al-Assad’s stepping down and the dissolution of his regime were the most important features of the agreement. At the same time, the agreement did not address the mechanisms to be used to end the violence, and such ambiguities have thus far prevented its implementation.

Yet, despite the differences of interpretation, Russia and the US say that the Geneva 1 Agreement is still on the table, with only minor adjustments needed for its implementation. The core issue, they say, is not so much the content of the agreement as the issue of how to interpret it on the ground.

According to Jaber Al-Shufi, a leading figure in the Syrian National Council (SNC), before the formation of the SNCF the main Syrian opposition movement abroad, “the West cannot impose Al-Assad’s staying in power, and the Syrian revolution will not abandon the goal of overthrowing the regime and its criminal members.

“Nonetheless, there are no objections to some regime members who have not participated in the killings and the corruption from remaining in place. But this is the minimum requirement for an acceptable political solution. If it is not agreed, the killing will continue until the regime falls and the cost and destruction will be all the higher.

“We agree to a Geneva 2 meeting that keeps some members of the regime in place in order to maintain security and prevent chaos. We also believe that Russia will abandon Al-Assad if its interests in Syria are secured. The Alawite sect in Syria will also be able to guarantee its rights if it participates in a transitional government and abandons Al-Assad and his gang,” Al-Shufi said.

Meanwhile, UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has said that the opposition and the regime must accept the Geneva 1 Agreement and implement it quickly. He has also urged the UN Security Council to clarify the matter of Al-Assad’s fate and said that the transitional government set up under the agreement should be given full executive powers, something which Russia has up till now refused.

“President Al-Assad does not have a role in the process,” Brahimi has said, claiming that the ambiguity in the original agreement regarding his fate was a “constructive ambiguity” aimed at getting the agreement passed and that the Security Council should now remove this ambiguity.

He also said that regional powers should be fully involved in any solution to the Syrian crisis, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has implicitly rejected the message coming out of the recent opposition meeting in Geneva, as well as Brahimi’s statements, by saying that the Geneva 1 Agreement “does not need clarification since it clearly and simply stipulates an end to the violence by all sides and names negotiators to form an interim leadership commission and decide its mission”.

The Geneva 1 Agreement also does not specify the role of the Syrian security and intelligence agencies in any rejuvenated regime, or the form of interim government that will eventually be adopted. These issues have been postponed until some future date, leading to criticisms of the agreement by the opposition both inside and outside the country.

In an address at the beginning of this year, Al-Assad declared his rejection of the Geneva 1 Agreement if it was interpreted in any other way than that proposed by the Russians. He clearly expressed his rejection of any international initiatives that were not judged compatible with the interests of his regime.

Brahimi’s insistence on amending the Geneva 1 Agreement and linking it to the UN Security Council, together with the acceptance of the opposition inside Syria that Geneva 1 could be a foundation for the resolution of the crisis and the declaration by the opposition overseas that it will agree to a Geneva 2 meeting if members of the regime “whose hands are tainted with blood” do not participate, has caused the Russians to declare they will look again at the proposals.

According to Haitham Manaa, head of the National Coordination Committee overseas, “the UN Security Council must convene an international conference on Syria that forces the regime and the opposition to reach a settlement and a programme for transition to a democratic state”.

The pressing issue now, he said, was “reducing the violence and ending the military crackdown”.

In the opposition’s view, the regime’s failure to end the uprising on the ground has forced it to compromise on the Geneva 1 Agreement, though it has warned that this will probably translate into, at best, cosmetic changes aimed at distracting people from what is really at issue.

The regime is bent on gaining time by avoiding the implementation of genuine political changes, and for this reason any forthcoming agreement should insist on a clear schedule for the transfer of power and a UN resolution, it has said.

This would require the regime to implement a programme for political change according to Chapter VI of the UN charter, probably entailing the deployment of international peacekeeping forces to monitor a ceasefire and verify the implementation of the transition plan.

 

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