Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Conference barrage on Syria

The present barrage of conferences on the Syrian crisis in Astana, Riyadh, Geneva and Sochi has done nothing to move the country closer to peace, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

 

Conference barrage on Syria
Conference barrage on Syria

اقرأ باللغة العربية


Last week, the Syrian opposition marked two developments. First, the Riyadh II Conference in the Saudi capital concluded by replacing the former Higher Negotiations Commission (HNC) with a new one, and second the eighth round of the Geneva Conference, scheduled to conclude at the end of this month, was extended without explanation even though no progress had been made.

However, neither of these developments holds out great hopes for the future. The Riyadh Conference concluded with an announcement by the opposition of a new negotiating body that includes the Moscow Platform, adamantly rejected in past years because of its lax positions and frequent compliance with the regime’s views.

The conference also issued a statement outlining a new ceiling for the HNC that did not mention the fate of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad due to Russian pressure. HNC members showed flexibility about participation in the Sochi Conference sponsored by Russia, postponed until February 2018, with many in the wider opposition seeing this as evidence of further compromise by the HNC.

The Geneva Conference got off to a rocky start that makes it more likely to fail. The regime delegation hesitated about participating, but was forced to attend under Russian pressure. There were no direct negotiations, and these only took place through international mediators moving from room to room.

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura also focused on marginal issues, inviting the participants to take part in workshops and committees but avoiding any mention of international decisions beginning with the 2012 Geneva I Communique that decided that the country’s future would be assigned to a transitional governing body formed at the start of the interim phase.

Many in the opposition criticised the proposals presented by their negotiating team, describing them as “irrelevant to the revolution and its principles.” The proposals circumvented the transitional phase, and their detractors have demanded that the negotiating team be more transparent and insist on opposition demands.

The HNC presented a 12-point programme, saying that the Moscow Platform and Cairo Platform approved of its ideas. The document stipulates Syria’s sovereignty, independence and the unity of its territory and people. Only the Syrian people can decide the fate of their country, the document says, using democratic means. The people must have the right to choose their political, economic and social system without foreign intervention, based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions.

The document also says that Syria must be a non-sectarian democracy, with equal citizenship, political pluralism, the rule of law and the separation of powers, an independent judiciary and full equality and cultural diversity, and a commitment to protecting public freedoms and religious beliefs.

It says effective measures must be taken to combat corruption and mismanagement. Syria is part of the Arab world, the document says, and should have a decentralised administration. The Syrian military should be reformed on nationalist principles, guaranteeing political neutrality, and its role should be to protect national borders and fight terrorism. The Syrian security agencies must be restructured, the document says, such that their purpose is to maintain national and individual security and uphold the rule of law.

The HNC proposals add that the state must not discriminate, but must give equal rights and opportunities to members of all races, religions, ethnicities and cultural or linguistic identities. Gender equality must be guaranteed. It says that female representation in institutions and decision-making circles should be no less than 30 per cent.

The proposals view the Kurdish issue as a Syrian one, eliminating any discriminatory policies against the Kurds and restoring citizenship to those stripped of it. Finally, it stresses the principle of accountability for those who have committed or are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity according to international law.

Many view the proposals, laudable in some areas, as tantamount to recognition of the Syrian regime, however, since they do not explicitly demand that it step down from power. They accept its presence in Syria’s future and implicitly agree that the regime and its members may participate in the next phase, irrespective of the war crimes they have committed.

Moscow is counting on finalising a solution to the Syrian crisis, and it has been paving the way to a so-called “Syrian National Dialogue” to be held in the Russian resort town of Sochi in February to ratify the above. The regime is counting on Tehran and Beijing to refocus efforts on reconstruction, the fight against terrorism, and postponing any political settlement.

There has been a barrage of conferences on Syria, moving from one capital to another and attended by local, regional and international actors producing many documents and proposals. Diplomatic manoeuvres never cease. There is often optimism when a conference is held, but none of those that have yet taken place have resulted in tangible results.

Many international actors are focused on fighting terrorism and have seemingly forgotten the Syrian tragedy and the priority of replacing the regime announced in 2012 in the Geneva I Declaration. As a result, the conferences are caught up in a vicious circle, issuing in at best cosmetic results.

During the seven years of international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and the dozens of conferences and international gatherings that have taken place, the regime has never compromised to allow more political participation even in limited forms. It has found support from Iran and protection from Russia, and the powers supporting the regime have procrastinated and obstructed possible solutions, with US disinterest making the gatherings have no chance of success.

The regime swamps the meetings with details and steers them from their real goals, voiding them of substance and setting out timelines that have nothing to do with the political transition. The priority of the major powers is to fight terrorism, while the Syrian opposition is left to fight the regime alone without support or allies.

It is likely that the present conferences will continue to be futile exercises as long as the regime insists on its position and the Russians remain ready to defend it. There will be no breakthrough on the regime’s side, and the talks will not evolve into serious negotiations. Pressure on the opposition will continue, forcing it to compromise.

Key figures in the opposition may accept such compromise, but it is certain that the one million orphaned children, the one million widows and the 12 million refugees who have lost everything due to the regime’s war and refusal to change will never do so.

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