February 10, 2014

Conference on Syria “Geneva-2”: Round Two

Oleksiy Volovych.

Positions of participants of the Conference

In their speeches on the first day of the Conference, its participants mainly reiterated their known positions on the Syrian conflict. Many speakers talked about the need to follow the provisions of the “Geneva Communique” from June 30, 2012, i.e. about the establishment of a transitional government in Syria and holding parliamentary and presidential elections [1]. Attention was also focused on the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the SAR and the situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, in particular Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Ban Ki-moonWhen opening the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the Conference participants with heartfelt words, “The eyes of all the citizens of Syria and other countries of the region who have been victims of this crisis, are turned to you. How many more Syrians will die, lose their loved ones, be maimed or lose their homes if the opportunity we have will be wasted by us?” The UN Secretary-General pointed out that, despite significant disagreements in Syria between government and opposition, the conference “Geneva-2” opens an opportunity to move the opposing parties to establish peace in the country. He stressed that “it is the Syrian people who bear key responsibility for shaping the future of their country, and all the participants of the Conference and other states should support these efforts”.

Sergei LavrovSpeaking after the UN Secretary General, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, called the aim of the Conference “termination of the tragic conflict that carries misery and suffering to the Syrian people and is spreading to neighboring countries and the entire Middle East region.” S. Lavrov acknowledged that direct inter-Syrian negotiations “will be neither simple nor quick”. Russian Foreign Minister said that there are a lot of forces, both in Syria and abroad, who verbally supported the holding of the Conference “Geneva-2”, but in fact are doing everything to prevent a successful conclusion for all parties to the conflict. S. Lavrov also expressed regret over the absence at the Conference of representatives of the internal Syrian opposition and Iran. However, according to him, despite all the obstacles and difficulties, the Conference provides a real step to achieve peace in Syria.

John KerryIn his speech, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would continue to have an impact on the parties of the Syrian conflict, in order to persuade them to make a mutually acceptable solution. In particular, he said that the decision of U.S. President Barack Obama on the possible use of military force to resolve the Syrian conflict cannot be removed unless peaceful ways to solve the conflict are found. U.S. Secretary of State also categorically spoke against the current Syrian President Bashar Assad's being part of the future transitional government. At the end of his speech, John Kerry said that the Conference on Syria could initiate lengthy peace negotiations in order to establish peace in Syria.

Wang YiIn his speech at the Conference, Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi said that taking into consideration interests of the Syrian people, the settlement of the Syrian issue is urgent. According to the Chinese Minister, the first step is to bring about a ceasefire in order to create favorable conditions for peace talks. Wang Yi voiced five Chinese proposals: solving the Syrian problem through political means; giving the Syrian people the right to independently choose the format of the future state; promotion of an inclusive process of political transition; support for national reconciliation and unification of Syria; providing humanitarian aid to Syria and neighboring countries, where there are Syrian refugees. Foreign Minister of China called on all parties in Syria to show political will, to borrow a useful experience of other countries, and to find the best middle way taking into consideration the realities of the country and interests of various parties.

V. MuallemRepresentatives of the Syrian government and the opposition — SAR's Foreign Minister V. Muallem and Head of SNC A. Jarba — spoke ​​with harsh mutual accusation. According to V. Muallem, nobody in the world has the right to recall the President or the Government of Syria, except for the people of the country itself. V. Moallem said that Syrian authorities do not intend to give up the fight against terrorism, and suggested the government to continue its dialogue with the opposition at the Syrian territory. He also called on Turkey, Western and Arab countries to refrain from interfering into internal affairs of the SAR and foreign support to extremist groups operating in Syria. After V. Moallem had used the determined by regulations time limit for his speech, UN Secretary-General several times interrupted him and demanded to finish it, but Foreign Minister of Syria read it to the end.

Ahmed JarbaIn response to V. Muallem's speech, Head of SNC Ahmed Jarba very emotionally declared that “thousands of civilians have been victims of President Assad, killing Syrian citizens to achieve his insane goals”. According to A. Jarba, to allow Assad to stay in politics means to come into conflict with the agreements reached at the conference “Geneva-1”.

Frank-Walter SteinmeierForeign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier assured that “Germany is ready to assist Syrian friends and international institutions in post-conflict rehabilitation and restoration of Syria”. At this, the Minister did not make it clear which exactly Syrians he considers friends and who will get the assistance. The Foreign Minister of Germany expressed the hope that the Conference “Geneva-2” would become the first step to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Laurent FabiusThe French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that Paris supported a political settlement of the conflict in Syria as the only possible way out under the circumstances. At this, L. Fabius called “most adequate force in the Syrian conflict” the “moderate opposition” to the government of Bashar al-Assad. It is unknown — whether he meant also the internal legal opposition, which includes representatives of the government.

William HagueIn his speech at the Conference, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain William Hague has proposed a plan for resolution of the Syrian crisis: creation of a clear timetable for the formation of the transitional government, establishment of a truce in the country and providing humanitarian assistance. William Hague said that “all those who signed the “Geneva Communique” want a transitional government to be formed in Syria, which would meet the aspirations of both sides and take into account the wishes of others, including the president, who destroyed his own legitimacy himself”. According to William Hague, Great Britain has allocated 100 million pounds for humanitarian aid to Syria and will allocate the same amount. However, he did not explain who exactly and how would get this aid.

Almost simultaneously, on January 24, in Davos, in the East of Switzerland, a former British Prime Minister, and now Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East Tony Blair, said that “in the last 6-9 months Assad's troops have advantages in the fighting going on there. To induce him to equal conversation, we need to achieve a balance on the battlefield”. Here they are, the brave British “peacekeepers”…

At the moment, Britain is preparing a new draft UN Security Council Resolution on Syria, which it is going to present before the February 10 second round of peace talks “Geneva-2”. As you know, before Britain has repeatedly presented its drafts UNSC Resolutions on Syria, providing for coercion of the official Damascus to Peace Process and resignation of President B. Assad, and which were declined by Russia and China. There are no sufficient reasons to expect that the new British draft Resolution UNSC will differ significantly from previous ones.

Didier BurkhalterSpeaking on the part of the host, Switzerland's President Didier Burkhalter expressed hope that the International Peace Conference in Montreux on Syria will launch the peace process in that country. President of the Confederation urged representatives of the government and the opposition of Syria to take steps towards each other, demonstrating a desire to seek a mutually acceptable solution.

Frans TimmermanFrans Timmerman, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, where the Headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is situated, said that there is not and should not be any military solution to the Syrian conflict, there is only the political aspect of the issue. He pointed out that the warring parties must proceed step by step in the negotiations and a peaceful solution must be found. According to him, a positive role in the peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict plays and the OPCW.

Nabil FahmyEgypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy expressed the hope that the political negotiations in Montreux would lead Syria to new horizons. Egyptian Minister also called on the Syrian government and opposition to help ensure the access of humanitarian aid to various parts of the SAR.

Adnan MansourLebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said that the terrorists operating in Syria are also a threat to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, which even before the beginning of the Syrian conflict for many years had been suffering from terrorists. Lebanese Minister urged the international community to eradicate terrorism, to identify the authors of the attacks, to find out sources of financing in order to ensure security in the region and the world. Indirectly the Lebanese Minister's speech was directed against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which Damascus and Beirut accuse of supporting terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon.

Speeches of representatives of Turkey and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf — the main sponsors of the Syrian opposition — were obviously of biased nature, and contained destructiveness and hostility toward B. Assad, and did not help reach a compromise at the Conference.

Ahmet DavutogluThus, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded “to put an immediate end to inhuman actions of B. Assad’s regime, which must not escape punishment”. The Turkish Minister stated that the Syrian leadership has announced all opposition “terrorists” while it itself “is leading a policy of state terrorism by bombing residential areas, killing people using incendiary bombs and chemical weapons”. In concluding his speech, A. Davutoglu said that “B. Assad and his close associates had lost their legitimacy and should no longer be in power”.

Khaled al-AtiyaQatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Atiya hit with harsh criticism on the Syrian authorities, accusing them of state terrorism. He called on the Syrian authorities to stop using terrorism theme “to distract attention from solving problems in their own country”. He also called on the parties to the conflict to implement the provisions of the “Geneva Communique” for cessation of hostilities throughout the territory of Syria. Besides, the Qatari Minister asked Damascus to provide corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian population. However, on the second day of the Conference, Foreign Minister of Qatar said that Iran could play a significant role in resolving the crisis in Syria. Khalid al-Atiya also urged to cooperate with Iran in the settlement of the Syrian conflict, despite differences with Tehran in positions regarding Syria. [2]

Khalid bin SaudMinister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Khalid bin Saud stated that “There is no place for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the process of settlement of the Syrian crisis”. He called for the speedy formation of a transitional Syrian government without B. Assad as “his hands are covered with blood”.

The First Round of Inter-Syrian Negotiations

After the Conference in Montreux from 24 to 31 January at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, was held the first round of direct inter-Syrian negotiations. As expected, the most disputable issue was the question of the resignation of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. While representatives of the Syrian opposition demanded unconditional and immediate resignation of B. al-Assad, the Syrian official delegation from the first day firmly excluded this possibility by stating that President B. Assad being or not being President depends only on the will of the Syrian people, and not on decisions of the Conference or on the Syrian opposition.

January 27 the Syrian official delegation put forward a Declaration on principles of negotiations to resolve the situation in Syria, which, inter alia, includes: respect for the sovereignty of Syria; return of the “usurped” territories; putting an end to supporting terrorists with weapons and money from abroad; choosing the political future of the country by the Syrians themselves based on the principles of democracy; giving up all forms of extremism and religious fanaticism.

The delegation of the Syrian opposition, not being bothered with discussions, immediately rejected this Declaration and January 28 unveiled its plan for peaceful solution on the basis of the “Geneva Communique”. In particular, the opposition offered to allow to withdraw formations of the “Free Syrian Army” from three settlements in the vicinity of Aleppo, blocked by government troops. Syrian opposition also insisted on the release of political prisoners. By the way, the Syrian government has repeatedly freed under amnesty militants and opposition politicians, most of whom subsequently returned to armed struggle against the B. al-Assad.

Lakhdar BrahimiIt should be noted that the talks between the government and the opposition of SAR were not direct, and were conducted under the mediation of UN and the Arab League Special Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. Delegations were in different rooms, and 80-year-old Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi kept making “shuttle contacts” between them. In other words, the delegations did not sit at the table and did not have direct contacts. Perhaps the only issue on which the parties did manage to reach agreement is the question of sending humanitarian aid to Homs and withdrawal of women and children from some areas of the city. Representatives of the government and the opposition agreed that terrorism exists in Syria, but were unable to agree on measures to counteract it.

Fighting in Syria was not suspended even for the duration of the Conference and negotiations that was not the best background for the peacekeeping efforts of the international community. Only January 30 terrorists and opposition parties fired from mortars and artillery shells at residential areas in the cities of Damascus, Deir ez-Zor, Homs, Aleppo and al-Harrah, resulting in about 20 civilians being killed and wounded. This shows that the Syrian opposition represented at the Conference, has no influence on all armed groups opposed to B. al-Assad. The National Coalition, in fact, controls not more than 20% of the opposition groups in Syria and actually is just a screen behind which there are radical Islamists.

Very peculiar position of the SNC and its Western patrons at the Geneva talks was presented by the Director of the Moscow Institute for Middle East E. Satanovskiy: “People who have not been able to overthrow the government and, I must say, are only the part of the opposition, on which little depends, demand that they were given full authority, and the government resigned, and wept bitterly and went and shot itself”...

Even before the completion of the Conference “Geneva-2”, the USA found “new excuses” for military attacks on Syria. Thus, the U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel expressed dissatisfaction that “the Syrian government is lagging behind the agreed schedule of withdrawal of chemical weapons”, although it is clear that the Syrian leadership has done everything that was written in the Agreement between the SAR, the UN and the OPCW. Its being behind schedule was due to adverse weather conditions, as well as actions of terrorists. Almost simultaneously, a representative of the U.S. Intelligence Service James Clapper accused Syria of … manufacturing biological weapons. However, he gave no evidence of his allegations. All this testifies to the fact that formally participating in the conference “Geneva-2” Washington still continues to rely on military pressure on B. al-Assad, to make him more pliable. It seems that the White House still has not realized that the Syrian president is not the person that can be frightened.

Syrian Opposition's Talks in Moscow

The agreement on the SNC leaders' visit to Moscow immediately after the conference “Geneva-2” was reached January 12 during the meeting in Paris of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Head of SNC A. Jarba. In accordance with the above-mentioned agreement, on February 4 this year leaders of the SNC A. Jarba, B. Jamus and M. Kilo held talks in the Russian Foreign Ministry, where they also had a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov. According to the Syrian oppositionists, they arrived in Moscow to finally clarify “with whom Russia wants to be — with the people or with the Syrian government?.” The SNC leadership tried to convince Moscow of the need to “put pressure on B. Assad's regime for him to give up force methods in favor of the political ones in dealing with the crisis. One of the topics discussed in the Russian Foreign Ministry was to discuss the issue of forming a coalition transitional government of Syria.

After the talks in the Russian Foreign Ministry, A. Jarba said, “We now have a good relationship with the Russian side. Now the Russian side better understands the position of the Coalition. We hope that these relations will develop gradually and will soon be followed by visits of representatives of the Coalition to Moscow”. B. Jamus said that at the request of the Russian side, the National Coalition is ready to expand the composition of its delegation in the second round of talks in Geneva by including representatives of the National Coordinating Committee (NCC).

Naturally, the information in the media about these negotiations in Moscow does not fully reflect all that was said and what agreements were achieved. However, about the results of these negotiations, we obviously can judge by the behavior of leaders of SNC in the next round of inter-Syrian talks in Geneva.

Conclusions

After the overthrow by the United States and its closest allies of the ruling regimes in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, Washington's attempts to use military force to eliminate legitimate regime headed by President B. Assad in sovereign Syria met with resistance not only from Russia, China and Iran, but also from the majority of the world community. To interfere into the Syrian conflict under the auspices of the United States refused even the USA's allies in NATO. All this suggests that the USA is largely losing the ability to single-handedly decide the fate of other countries and peoples at its discretion. To this also contributes the transformation of China into a new superpower and thus a return to the bipolar world order, with its system of checks and counter-balances. In our view, this circumstance first of all helped start the process of peaceful settlement of the situation in Syria.

The main positive result of the Conference “Geneva-2” is the fact that despite a number of adverse moments and circumstances, it did take place, and representatives of the Syrian government and opposition for the first time began a direct dialogue in the search for a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis. Thanks to the hard and constructive diplomatic work of Russia, China and some other countries, the Conference was held. Moscow's initiatives once again demonstrated to the world the effectiveness of thoughtful and reasonable diplomatic and political solutions as opposed to the West's efforts to use military force to resolve the Syrian crisis. The fact that immediately after the first round of inter-Syrian negotiations the leaders of the Syrian opposition went for talks to Moscow not to Washington, suggests that in the current situation Russia plays a leading role in resolving the Syrian crisis.

Today everyone understands that without participation of “jihadists” from neighboring countries, the anti-government rebellion in Syria would have been suppressed in 2011. Lots of facts show that Western countries through their intermediaries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are trying to use units of “Al Qaeda” and other Islamic organizations to overthrow B. al-Assad, while masking their actions by formal condemnation of “Al Qaeda”. Repeats the same situation that the USA created in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, trying to direct the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation forces. But as then in Afghanistan, so now in Syria, the Islamists are going out from under Washington's control and create more problems than dividends.

If the USA and its allies are really interested in a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis, in the second round of inter-Syrian negotiations should take part representatives of a wider range of constructive and moderate opposition, including the internal one, on which the real situation in the country depends. At the negotiating table must also sit representatives of major opposition armed groups (except obviously terrorist ones) on which depends cessation of hostilities in Syria. Until this has been achieved, further negotiations make no sense.

The tragedy of the Syrian people suggests that it is easy to ignite the fire of conflict, but it is very difficult to extinguish it. Putting an end to the civil war in Syria depends primarily on all the Syrian people, among which some politicians today, with the support of external forces are trying to sow poisoned grains of confrontation and hostility. No one may be more interested in restoring peace in the troubled Syrian soil than Syrians themselves. The sooner they get rid of the external “sponsors and guardians” warming hands on the Syrian fire, the better for all Syrians regardless of their ethnic, religious or political belonging. The sooner foreign terrorist groups are driven out of the country; the sooner in Syria will be peace and stability, the sooner Syrians will start to revive their country. Only within the framework of a secular state, not divided by confessional barriers and religious fanaticism, Syrians will be able to live in peace and harmony, as they had lived for centuries.

Syria today closes the “arc of instability” that begins in Afghanistan, passes through Pakistan, Iran and neighboring Iraq. Common causes of crises in these countries are so-called conflict-generating factors: poverty and declining of living standards, expropriation of property, reducing rights and freedoms of the population, the loss of confidence in the government and as a result, intensification of the struggle for power, oligarchization and the most dangerous — external military intervention. Only all-encompassing and simultaneous settlement of the situation in all these countries, as well as in countries affected by the “Arab revolution” could lead to stability and peace in each of them. You cannot put out the fire in the same room when the whole house is ablaze.

Alexei Volovich

February 7, 2014

[1] On the eve of the conference B. Assad reiterated his possible participation in the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for this year.

[2] Qatari Foreign Minister’s reverence to Tehran apparently can be explained by the fact that Iran and Qatar have mutual and extensive economic relations. Iran supplies in Qatar agricultural, light industry and chemical products, foods, as well as building materials. In its turn, Qatar exports petroleum to Iran. Qatar has a population of about 160 thousand Iranian citizens, which is almost the 10th of the total population of this country. On the other hand, despite the recent aggravation of relations between Qatar and Saudiya, Qatar does not intend, at least openly to confront with Iran.