GCC reactions to Geneva II are on the right track
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the Geneva II conference "a vehicle for a peaceful transition"
On January 23, 2014, the Geneva II conclave on Syria’s future opened. The U.N. supported talks, sought to bring together representatives from both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Western-backed political opposition for the first time since the multi-level civil war began almost three years ago. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the Geneva II conference "a vehicle for a peaceful transition" that would fulfill Syrians' aspirations for freedom and dignity. The goal of Geneva II would be to achieve an agreement between the government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva Communique.
But on the eve of the talks, the U.N. “dis-invited” Iran, seemingly setting the tone for a conference doomed to failure from the get-go. The Syrian crisis also seemed to be further complicated with the opposing forces of Iran and the GCC states sitting in one room. Tehran, through the breakthrough in the Interim Agreement and the embryonic opening of cooperation with the West, is trying to play a more apparent role in the Middle East region.
GCC states, however, are in opposition with Iran on the Syrian issue as the GCC-supported Syrian opposition itself is not very doting of the way Tehran is involved in the crisis. In fact, the GCC is outraged at Iranian behavior towards Assad, his military, their support for Hezbollah, and the Islamic Republic’s overall attitude towards “their security partner.” Indeed, the GCC’s wish for Iranian exclusion became a reality.
Attendees included a Syrian government delegation headed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. Media reports suggest that Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Moqdad, presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar al-Jaafari will also be part of the delegation. Ahmad Jarba headed the opposition delegation as the president of the Syrian National Coalition.
Assad, and by extension his government, is guilty of war crimes and the wanton destruction of a center of Arab culture and societyDr. Theodore Karasik
Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said the 15-member delegation will include two representatives of the country's ethnic Kurdish minority, two for rebels and two for opposition groups based in Syria. Of course other the United States, Russia, China and other major international actors participated numbering close to thirty. From the GCC representatives from Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attended as well. This “GCC bloc” is beginning to wield its clout at the Geneva II by raising key issues.
The GCC sees Geneva II as a first step towards creating a new Syria. The GCC states agree that there needs to be a new Syria based on a new social compact. This compact, regarding equality and inclusion across the country’s political spectrum, needs to be confessional. But unlike the dysfunctional Lebanese state based on confessionalism, international powers including the GCC are hoping to create a new, efficient Syrian state without the tyranny and torture of the Syrian Baathist regime.
Assad, and by extension his government, is guilty of war crimes and the wanton destruction of a center of Arab culture and society. Overall, the GCC wants the bloodshed to stop and to hone in the violence of the conflict to halt the spread to Lebanon and to Iraq. The GCC states also seek to open further humanitarian corridors of which the UAE has taken the lead with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
Ash heap of history
From the GCC point of view, the Geneva II talks are the beginning of a process. Primarily, as noted above, are a new government and a new social contract as Baathist Syria is thrown into the ash heap of history. But there is a greater requirement: the destruction of al-Qaeda groups and allies in Syria.
These groups, especially those that pledged bayat (allegiance) to al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, must be neutralized. Their destruction must be through and in conjunction with other powers that need to be ready for those battle hardened veterans of the Syrian battle space return to their home countries. Not only are there GCC citizens fighting on behalf of al-Qaeda but also fighters from throughout the world.
This fact is a next step in the Geneva process as a historical progression where all parties must agree on who is a greater threat and how those threats must be dealt with increased intelligence, customs enforcement, and police work. The GCC recognizes the job ahead.
Overall, the Geneva II process is a start: there will be more meetings and more disputes that may drag on for years. For some GCC observers, Assad, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and al-Nusra need to be dealt with simultaneously in order to bring a respite to the intense, deadly violence racking Syria today. This fact is why many of the GCC states are pursuing multiple policies of support to the opposition (namely the Islamic Front) but also demanding that Assad be accountable.
Clearly, where the GCC needs to come to agreement is with Russia. The Kremlin wants a political process where Assad goes through an electoral process slated for this summer; this position is being rejected by other Geneva II participants. But time and events seemed to be against Moscow and Assad once again. Both Russia and the Syrian rump state bought time with the U.S.-Russia brokered chemical weapons agreement which was, indeed, great news that forestalled a potential allied attack on Syrian military assets.
Now the clock is moving forward and the GCC wants to see real results in order to protect their interests and their homelands. A multi-staged process where key political and strategic priorities are now more important than others: halting the torture and mass murders in the Syrian killing fields is going to not be solved overnight.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.
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