I would like to be optimistic about the forthcoming Geneva 2 conference on Syria but the possibility of a political solution to the crisis seems as far away as ever as gaps between the parties widen and diplomatic crises escalate, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
Two important developments occurred in the past 24 hours which may have squandered the seeds of hope that were planted during preparations for Wednesday’s conference.
1: Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, after a period of indecision, invited Iran to participate in the Conference and did not insist that it accept any preconditions. Saudi Arabia has rejected Iran’s participation if it will not commit to establishing a transitional government under the aegis of the Syrian National Coalition, which only agreed to attend, Friday.
2: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, in an interview with AFP, stated that he would be representing the Syrian people at the Geneva 2 conference and insisted that he would be standing for re-election in the summer. He has also refused to accept any member of the SNC as a minister in a transitional government.
The SNC is now threatening not to attend if Iran will not commit to a transitional government and the US, too, is now asking the UN to withdraw its invitation to Tehran, fearing the stand-off could wreck the meeting. Paradoxically, it was Russian diplomacy that won the US over to the idea that without Tehran’s participation, any agreements made at Geneva will have no chance of lasting.
It will lead to a serious downturn in US- Russian relations if the conference is a disaster but the differences between the two sides – Iran, Russia and the regime on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the SNC on the other – are looking increasingly unbridgeable.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations was right to invite Iran to attend the Geneva Conference, and not to set any preconditions. Iran is a powerful regional force and its allies – in particular Hezbollah – are engaged on the ground in the Syria civil war.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, and to some extent Qatar, are also engaged in this swamp of blood, funding the opposition, even when they are battle-hardened jihadists. Saudi clerics have been inciting young people to Jihad in Syria.
A political solution is the only salvation out of this impasse, the only way to stop further bloodshed in Syria.
Many countries have shown themselves to be quickly adaptable and flexible where the Syrian file is concerned. The US decided to refrain from a military strike on Assad and open a dialogue with Iran to seek new possibilities and alternatives to war (for now); Turkey began to reviews its policies after three years of political and military support for the opposition. Saudi Arabia needs to undertake a similar review and support a political solution, particularly now, when the outcome of Geneva 2 hangs in the balance.
The regime has failed to crush the opposition, and the opposition has failed to overthrow the regime. The jihadist groups which are conducting the majority of the battles nowadays face a strong alliance of the Russians and Americans against her if they seek to establish an Islamic State applying Shari’a law on Syrian territory. The next months, whether or not the Geneva conference succeeds or fails, will certainly be an attempt to put in place an Iraq-style ‘Awakening’ campaign to turn the people against the jihadists. This all works in Assad’s favour and this is why he is displaying the confidence of a lion in his recent appearances in the media.
The biggest mistake committed by the Arab media was to sell the illusion that Syria was like the other ‘Arab Spring’ countries. It is not, and time and rivers of blood are showing that.
If the Conference begins with such differences and clashes between the two super-powers, with the UN apparently unable to broker a solution, how can any outcome beneficial to the Syrian people emerge?
May God help the Syrian people.