Thursday,18 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Thursday,18 April, 2019
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

High hopes on Syria

Could the latest round of Geneva talks on Syria lead to an end to the conflict, asks Camelia Entekhabifard


High hopes  on Syria
High hopes on Syria

While all eyes are on Geneva with a view to news from the 8th round of talks taking place on Syria on 28 November, signals from the UN and the participants at the meeting have increased hopes for an end to the six years of civil war in the country.  

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, briefed the UN Security Council on the negotiations a day ahead of the talks and about the circumstances expected by the participants.

 “I noted that the participants in Riyadh [at the earlier meeting on Syria] unequivocally rejected terrorism and affirmed that the solution to the crisis is political, not military. I have noted that they formed a united opposition delegation reflecting the full diversity of the participants to the conference,” de Mistura said.

“I have noted that the delegation was tasked to negotiate in Geneva without any, repeat any, preconditions, to discuss all issues on the agenda, and to have the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions as the sole reference for the negotiation.”

It is possible that de Mistura told the Security Council that all the parties had agreed on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad remaining in power until elections held under UN supervision can decide his political future.

 The leaders of the main players in the Syrian conflict, Iran, Turkey and Russia, met last week in the Russian resort town of Sochi to celebrate the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria. The opposition to the Syrian regime then gathered in Riyadh to find a united voice to represent it at the new round of talks on Syria in Geneva.

The opposition groups succeeded in finding a delegation that would represent all of them, but only at the price of the resignation of key leaders such as Riyad Hijab who has been leading the negotiations on behalf of the opposition over the past two years. 

The Russians welcomed the resignations as positive moves that would help the domestic opposition and that outside the country to achieve progress in the peace talks between the different factions, according to comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The resignations would not have been as apparently simple as they were, had Saudi Arabia not been willing to accept them in coordination with Russians. 

Moreover, while Iran has been pretending victory in the war in Syria, at bottom it is clear that the Russians have succeeded in narrowing the gap between the Iranians and the Turks and convincing the Americans of their plans for Syria’s future without an Iranian military presence in the country. 

Not only Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Turkey along with the Americans, have parts to play in the future of Syria, and the compromises mentioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin at Sochi are likely to mean all the countries and groups involved giving up some of their ambitions at different prices. 

The first compromises have been made by Riyadh, in which the radical opposition members who represent the armed factions of the Syrian opposition resigned in order that the new delegation can conduct direct talks with the Syrian government. 

Saudi Arabia’s compromises mean there is now no pre-condition for Al-Assad to step down from power in the conduct of the talks.

Meanwhile, Iran has over 10,000 fighters in Syria, and Putin may have asked Tehran to withdraw them as part of an Iranian compromise on the Syrian conflict.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently said that “there is no excuse for the presence of any foreign powers in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government,” which may mean that he expects all countries except Iran to withdraw their troops from Syria on the grounds that Iran’s presence was requested by the government.

De Mistura may see his job as UN mediator as including asking all foreign troops to leave Syria. 

There is still a long way to go before Syria achieves any real peace, but if talks between the groups gathered in Geneva succeed, perhaps they will lead to free and fair elections which will be the best way to determine the fates of the foreign elements inside Syria.

“I noted that president Al-Assad said in Sochi after meeting President Putin on 24 November, and I quote, that ‘we do not want to look back. We will accept and talk with anyone who is really interested in a political settlement,’” De Mistura told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 27 November, indicating the hopes invested in this round of talks on Syria.

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