Thursday,18 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Thursday,18 April, 2019
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Between Geneva and Sochi

The eighth round of the Geneva talks on Syria have concluded without results, leaving Russia and the Syrian regime to move on to the Sochi Conference next year, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus


Between Geneva and Sochi
Between Geneva and Sochi

اقرأ باللغة العربية

As expected, the eighth round of the Geneva Conference on the Syrian crisis has failed to produce a breakthrough. The regime and opposition delegations did not meet in the corridors of the UN building where the talks were taking place, and there was no indication that either side was willing to negotiate. The regime delegation walked out of the talks and only returned to Geneva after great hesitation.

UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura focused on marginal issues and advisory committees more than the delegations from both sides. He set up workshops that did not address core issues, and he seemed uninterested in meeting directly with opposition or regime representatives, perhaps because he was convinced he could not bring them together at the same table. He focused on formalities rather than the heart of the issue.

The delegations were given a document on “Essential Principles for a Political Solution in Syria” (EPPSS) listing 12 such principles, including that Syria’s future should be based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

The document stipulated the creation of a non-sectarian state, a national army, security agencies that operate according to the constitution, a decentralised administration, a commitment to sovereignty and independence, the importance of democratic procedures, the right of Syrians to choose their political, economic and social systems without foreign pressure or interference, the rule of law, the separation of powers, a transparent government, the need to combat terrorism and increased female representation.

The opposition presented a similar document, but noted that what it contained could not be applied as long as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad remains in power and the security agencies are not restructured.

Head of the regime delegation at Geneva Bashar Jaafari accused de Mistura of “overstepping his mandate” because he had presented the EPPSS without consulting Damascus. He then submitted a counter-proposal focused on combatting terrorism, support for the army, a freeze on funds for the opposition, lifting sanctions and holding a conference on the reconstruction of Syria without preconditions.

The proposal ignored the political transition in Syria and the role of the opposition.

The UN thus now has three contradictory proposals reflecting the conflicting ideas of all sides. Five years of Geneva Conferences has not brought viewpoints closer, even to the extent of agreeing on first principles. The regime has insisted on the same ideas since the start of the revolution, namely that what has been happening in Syria is a “conspiracy” and that while the opposition can be included in the government, the regime and its figures must remain in power.

The regime has been encouraged in this position by Iranian and Russian support, while US disinterest and Western incapacity have allowed it to continue on this track.

All sides are now trying to put pressure on the opposition, with the Russians wanting it to accept the Russia Platform on the Higher Negotiations Committee in charge of the negotiations and to withdraw its demand that Al-Assad step down from power as a precondition to a settlement.

 The Russians are also putting pressure on the opposition to soften its rejection of the Russian-sponsored Sochi Conference it is planning next year. Moscow wants this to replace all previous conferences on Syria, including those in Geneva.

The allies of the opposition are pressuring it to agree to some of Russia’s demands, threatening to withdraw their military, financial or political support. The US indifference to the opposition is another form of pressure, and even the European countries have begun to call on the Syrian opposition to be more “pragmatic” and “flexible” in the name of realism.

The UN admits that the Syrian conflict is complex and resolving it needs to be based on a domestic, regional and international consensus. It has repeatedly stated that progress must be made on the Geneva track, but it has not taken the necessary steps to propel this process forward because it is the hostage of the Security Council which for the past seven years has been controlled by Russian vetoes.

Moscow has used its veto power on the Security Council ten times to block any resolutions that could facilitate a solution to the Syrian crisis or end the tragedy in the country.

During the Geneva talks on the Syrian crisis and at other talks in Brussels, Moscow, Astana and elsewhere, the Syrian regime has always shown itself to be unwilling to compromise on broadening political participation even within the narrowest margins.

It has insisted on a military solution to the crisis, mostly dealing with the opposition, whether civilian or military, as terrorists. It does not recognise the existence of the opposition or its demands. Instead, it insists on defeating what it has called a “universal conspiracy,” therefore causing the Geneva talks to fail.

It has overwhelmed the opposition with details, tried to change the agenda of the negotiations, and undermined the Geneva goals by making the war on terrorism the sole issue at hand.

Perhaps de Mistura was counting on intervention by Moscow and the Western capitals to save the negotiations and address the key issues of a political solution by moving onto discussion of a new constitution and elections. However, none of this happened, and the negotiations remained at a standstill amid indifference from the regime delegation.

It seems that Moscow is not serious about the Geneva talks and that Russian officials are now more focused on the Sochi National Dialogue Conference slated for early 2018. In the past, Russia threw its weight behind the Astana Conference on Syria by shaping the opposition under Russian-Iranian-Turkish supervision in the hope that this track would replace the previous ones, most notably that in Geneva.

“The regime was mostly absent at the eighth round of the Geneva talks in order to protest against the condition that the head of the regime must leave,” Mihsaal Al-Adawi, an opposition figure, said. “But previously the regime came to the negotiations for seven rounds with this condition still in place, so why is it rejecting it now,” he asked.

 “The regime wanted to sabotage the Geneva talks to force the opposition and the international community to go to Sochi so that Russia can impose its vision for a solution to the crisis while ignoring the UN and UN Resolutions. Russia could then return to the UN with a fabricated solution, making the Syrian people subject to a constitution that would turn the country into another Chechnya in Russia’s orbit,” Al-Adawi said.

The opposition, especially the HNC, must continue to insist on core principles without which the Syrian issue cannot be resolved fairly. These principles are accepted by the international community and include the political transition from a totalitarian sectarian regime to a civilian and democratic one.

The Geneva I Declaration of 2012, which the major powers agreed to and was supported by key regional countries, must be upheld, this committing the international community to the formation of a transitional governing body with a full mandate in Syria as part of the political transition.

Observers believe that the Geneva talks have become a forum for Russian-US wrangling. Moscow wants to marginalise the process that five years ago issued an internationally recognised declaration to remove the Syrian regime. Washington wants Geneva to continue without success because it is in no hurry to find a solution and would prefer the Syrian crisis to remain unsolved.

However, keeping the crisis alive exacerbates the Syrian tragedy which has created many regional and international problems, including the rise of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, the spread and expansion of Iranian-based sectarian militias, the crisis of the refugees and trans-border terrorism from and into Syria.

The major powers should defend their principles and obligations, especially human rights and the interests and fate of the Syrian people. They must uphold their promises and work on curbing the rise of terrorism and the use of foreign territories for proxy wars. They must respect the Syrian people’s right to decide their future.

Rogue states with religious and other aspirations must be prevented from intervening in the affairs of others. If the major powers do not meet their obligations with regard to the Syrian crisis, they are participating in the destruction of the Middle East with uncertain consequences.

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