This Is How Geneva II Will Fail

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Syria's Foreign Minister and head of the Syrian government delegation Walid Muallem, speaks during peace talks of the so-called Geneva II conference in Montreux on January 22, 2014. (Photo: AFP).

By: Sami Kleib

Published Friday, January 24, 2014

Everything was arranged so that Geneva II would fail. Failure is necessary because the conditions for reaching a political settlement are not yet ripe; the regime finds itself stronger on the ground and more united than the opposition. Failure is necessary because the opposition was unable to put together a team including all its factions.

The main goal of the Geneva II conference is its failure. After Geneva II, the Syrian regime can say it reached out to the opposition but the Syrian National Coalition foiled the peace conference, and it will have to carry on with military operations. The coalition, for its part, can use the regime’s refusal to discuss the question of President Bashar al-Assad stepping down and the establishment of a transitional body. It will then withdraw from the conference and end this charade.

The first scene of this play included the televised speeches of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Syrian National Coalition head Ahmad Jarba.

Now let’s imagine the second scene: The two delegations enter the negotiating room and sit at different tables, separated by the table of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Just like a theater director, Brahimi recites his opening remarks, asking both sides to consider what their people are going through. He calls on them to look for a solution to end the fighting. He pleads with them to use diplomatic language to help find a solution. He tries to say there are shared points of agreement. He insists that everyone is eager to save Syria, then he ends the session and draws the curtains.

Until late last night, the details of the second scene were still not clear. Will the two sides resume negotiations in the same room or in two separate rooms? The atmosphere remained highly pessimistic. The National Coalition delegation said they do not want to sit in the same room with the regime delegation, especially after Moallem’s opening speech. Brahimi suggested seating them in separate rooms to convey the different points of view. If this round of negotiations leads to something tangible, then he will reunite them in one room. The question will be decided tomorrow morning.

In the first scene, Moallem stole the limelight. What will he come up with this time? The head of Syrian diplomacy will not even address the coalition delegation directly; he addresses Brahimi, who then tells the opposition what was said, word for word, or perhaps he summarizes a bit. This is a difficult and complicated process under normal circumstances, let alone when the Syrian foreign minister is the one speaking. It is no longer a secret that Moallem will focus on the priority of combatting terrorism. He will not accept any discussion of transferring powers, creating a transitional body, or of Assad stepping down. That, however, is unacceptable to the National Coalition delegation.

Then comes the opposition’s turn. The speaker will repeat that the priority is for Assad to step down. Yesterday, Jarba paved the way for this position during his press conference. He said in no uncertain terms: “The Assad regime cannot stay. It has become an image of the past representing the era of black and white.” He spoke and then left Geneva.

There are no shades of gray in these negotiations. Herein lies the knot of this play that will lead to its failure. Either black or white, both sides will dig in their heels.

How Will This Failure Play Out?

The Syrian regime delegation confirms it will not withdraw from the negotiations, as Moallem promised Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The Syrian diplomat – who is well versed in negotiating matters and the US way of thinking (he was Syrian ambassador to Washington) – knows how to aggravate his adversaries or put them at ease. Will he prompt the opposition’s withdrawal this time by continuing to repeat that Assad will not step down and that this issue is outside the bounds of discussion? They would have to either accept or withdraw from the conference.

Will They Withdraw?

It is more than likely the opposition will withdraw. The curtain might quickly come down on this play after just three days. The dreamy atmosphere in Montreux did not diminish each side’s desire to eliminate the other, and Geneva’s serenity will not ease this intransigence.

Some people will continue to invoke a certain level of optimism. A UN official says, for example, that negotiations are always difficult at the beginning. He recounts how he personally participated in more difficult negotiations where the parties would come to the negotiating table carrying arms. He also says that both sides typically vent at the beginning of negotiations. This is normal, he stresses, but in the end, the mediator finds shared points of agreement to build upon. The role of UN officials is to be optimistic, but this time, the truth is somewhere else.

The truth is, everything was arranged so that Geneva II would fail. Failure is necessary because the conditions for reaching a political settlement are not yet ripe; the regime finds itself stronger on the ground and more united than the opposition. Failure is necessary because the opposition was unable to put together a team including all its factions.

It does not matter how the curtain will come down on Geneva II. What matters is what will happen after this masquerade. Will the fighting continue in Syria, or will the path be paved for Geneva III, under better circumstances, where everyone will attend, including Iran?

Iran’s Exclusion

Days after excluding Iran, it became evident that the pressure on the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was not the only reason to rescind Iran’s invitation. Information revealed that pressure from Saudi Arabia and France played the most prominent role in convincing Ban to rescind the invitation. He was told that if he did not rescind the invite, the National Coalition would not attend.

Information also revealed that, during the meeting of the European Foreign Affairs Council on January 20, the question of inviting Iran was discussed in depth. A number of European countries were in favor of inviting the Islamic Republic on the grounds that after its nuclear deal with the West, it could play a constructive role.

When certain foreign ministers raised the question of the coalition’s response to the invitation, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “Don’t worry, I have contacted the UN, and we are in the process of addressing the problem.” Some European foreign ministers supported him while others opposed him, but in the end, the Europeans agree that the central issue with Iran is the nuclear question, whereas the Syrian issue is to be handled by the United States and Russia.

Europe seems lost when dealing with Syria. France raises the banner of Assad stepping down. But the Syrian regime is no longer worried about this issue. They say they can simply buy tickets for the European terrorists in their custody and return them to Europe. The possibility is not a joke.

Some in Europe have opened a direct line with Syria while others prefer to deal with Iran. In UN hallways, a visitor hears something else about rescinding the invitation to Iran. There is some sort of behind-the-scenes compromise reached through an Iranian-Russian agreement.

Iran was not enthusiastic about attending Geneva II in the first place. Perhaps it knew in advance that it would not lead anywhere. It is rumored that it deliberately refused to commit to Geneva I, which observes the transfer of presidential and security powers to a transitional body. It knew beforehand that holding on to this position means rejecting its presence at the conference. Not attending gives it more freedom of movement in the next phase to help its Syrian ally.

Moscow was only vexed over rescinding Iran’s invitation in public statements. Russia can say, we convinced the regime to come to the negotiating table, and you hindered the process. It can also say we warned against excluding Iran.

That is a possibility. It does not make sense that as the world prepares to make a deal with Iran, the Islamic Republic would be excluded. It also does not make sense that Washington would send signs to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about opening the US Embassy in Tehran then prevent it from attending the conference. It certainly was good for everyone to withdraw Iran’s invitation, including the United States, which avoided an embarrassing situation with what is left of its allies in the Syrian opposition.

What’s being said in UN hallways is that Iran will attend the following set of negotiations. The following negotiations will be attended by a wider spectrum of the opposition. This is what the Russians told the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, the Kurds, and others. Moscow advised factions within the opposition not to get on the first train of negotiations because it is not the most significant.

The National Coalition delegation represents but a fraction of the Syrian opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood has a considerable presence in the delegation. How can Saudi Arabia support their presence in this case while it fights their counterparts in Egypt by supporting General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi?

Washington is aware of this weakness. Some of its envoys to Geneva say they feel disappointed with the opposition. An opposition official at the conference, however, says that the United States and the West are responsible for this disappointment because they did not support the opposition with adequate arms and money to topple the regime.

Why did Moscow agree to restrict the opposition at Geneva II to just the internally divided National Coalition? Why did it agree to exclude its key allies within the opposition?

Something is cooking between Moscow and Washington for the next phase of negotiations, even though Lavrov complained about the deceit of US Ambassador Robert Ford. Lavrov exchanged whispered remarks with his Chinese counterpart more than once as they watched, along with the official Syrian delegation, how Ford was bringing in members of the coalition to the conference and seating them in their chairs like a school teacher. Nevertheless, the main goal of US-Russian negotiations now is combatting terrorism.

The same is true for the EU. At the last Foreign Affairs Council meeting, the European ministers said: “The EU shares the growing concern of all parties over the spread of extremism and extremist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front. The participation of these groups in the conflict represents a threat to the peace process and the unity of Syrian territories.”

The EU does not call for imposing a political settlement on the regime despite its harsh criticism of it. Rather, it insists on the notion of mutual understanding to form a transitional governmental body that would enjoy full executive powers.

According to the United States and Russia, the whole international community now wants to adopt urgent measures to stop the fighting, deliver humanitarian aid, and return the refugees to their homes. Yet they disagree on what constitutes a priority. The regime’s adversaries suggest that, in a best case scenario, the priority is agreement on a power transfer, and in a worst case scenario, to reconcile the political process with humanitarian aid. The regime and its allies reject such proposals and insist that any constitutional, presidential, or electoral future will be decided by Syrians and only Syrians.

There are two options for Geneva II: Either the coalition will agree to initiate the aforementioned urgent measures before discussing Assad’s future, or the curtain will come down on one of the most naive plays in modern history.

It appears, unfortunately, that failure is inevitable no matter how Brahimi spins it. The regime still believes that military success on the ground will have the final word. The coalition and its fighters still hope that the failure of the conference will convince the world to send more weapons to opposition fighters, allowing the fighting to go on until Geneva III. That is, if anything is left of Syria to negotiate over.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Yes the main purpose of Geneva conference is its failure. The prime minister of Syria was available and discuss on this war issue but it was still not sorted.

There is no logic in the idea of a 'transitional authority' at all. Russia & China made a mistake by accepting the idea at G1. Look at the composition of G1. It was hosted by Kofi Annan and attended by Ban-Ki-Moon and the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League, China, France, Russia, Britain, the USA, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the EU.

what can the GOVERNMENT discuss with terrorists?
let's be honest, that is no opposition we can tell you from 1st hand experience and here we are talking about the western jokers like jabra
they are extremely violent aggressive abusive brutal and thugs
they attacked women because they refused to accept their "house arab" version of the TERRORISM in our Suriya

Just take a look around - Libya, Syria; Ukraine, Thailand, ......
an inferno created by US/UK/EU

People do not give a damn about their "demockery, freedom, bud, homosexuals, .....any other lofty ideals
people hate their sick perverted ideology of IMPERIALISM/TERRORISM

it is important to resist the zionised crusader mafia ideology as it effects us all

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