Monday, January 27, 2014

Syria: Three paths to an intractable crisis

Dr. Leila Nicolas

The crisis in Syria is witnessing three separate paths that may affect the conflict significantly. The first is the Geneva II conference held in Montreux for negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition,  with the participation of thirty different countries while Iran - an effective participant in the Syrian crisis - was absent. The second was in Davos at "the world economic forum", where Iran was strongly present , and despite Syria was absent as a participant, it was strongly available as a crisis. And the third path is what the Syrian government describes as "counterinsurgency" in the Syrian territories.
- As for the first path, the high-pitched and sharp tone speeches in Montreux of both Syrian delegations, plus those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu , and the Saudi foreign minister Saoud el Faissal didn't indicate a good start to finding solutions to the conflict. Supporters of both Syrian regime and opposition declared "media victory" in the first day of Montreux conference as they exchanged accusations of supporting terrorism.
It seems that the Iranians were aware of the shallow results of the Geneva II conference. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, manifested early his pessimism about the conference results. This may reveal why the Iranians were not ready to accept preconditions to attend Geneva II. It was obvious that the conference will not lead to peaceful solution, especially as the "Syrian National Coalition" witnessed a great collapse after US ambassador Richard Ford forced them to go to Geneva. Besides lack of broad popular support inside Syria from both activists and fighters, the "coalition" legitimacy has always flowed from its foreign patrons, and a main bloc quits the Coalition over Geneva conference participation.

- The second Path which was lead by Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif at the "World Economic Forum" in Davos , where he met ministers from Arab countries ,Turkey and European countries to discuss the Syrian crisis in both closed and open sessions. The Iranian minister in an open session moderated by Al-Arabia News Channel called for withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Syrian territories. Another closed session moderated by the Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called for a brainstorming to find diverse ways to resolve the Syrian crisis. Annan - who started a  visit to Iran in 26 January- said that Iran had an essential role to play in guaranteeing stability in the Middle East and urged U.S. lawmakers to give a diplomatic detente with Tehran a chance.

So it seems that the celebrations are in a place, and the wedding elsewhere. While the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon set very closed and strict agenda for negotiators in Montreux, Kofi Annan seems to open doors for diverse solutions which can lead to common ground. Annan seems more realistic when he urges US " to give diplomacy, negotiation and peace a chance", and launches a delegation of Elders group to "exchange ideas with the Iranian leadership about peaceful ways of addressing conflict and healing sectarian divisions in the region".

- The third Path, is the military one, where there is a race inside Syria between the diplomatic paths and the military one. It seems that both parties and their international supporters want to change the military balance before the Syrian presidential elections next June.
President Bashar  El Assad knows it clearly that his victorious counterinsurgency lead him to participate in Geneva II conference, as the balance of power shifted dramatically between June 2012  and January 2014.
The US and its proxies want Assad to refrain from running the Presidential elections, and they are sure that he will not do unless they shift the military balance on the ground. However, it is turning to be a very dangerous game, as the Al Qaeda activists are controlling most the opposition areas, after the dissolution of the "free Syrian Army" supported by the west.
So, US is playing a very dangerous game in Syria i.e. the opposition alliance with the devil will not go in favor of the Syrian opposition at the medium and long term. And if they don't accept the results now, they will regret it tomorrow as they will be forced to accept much more less than what they are offered today.

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