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What can Syria expect from Geneva 2 talks

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

If you hear them at the upcoming Geneva 2 conference discussing a binding ceasefire in Syria under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, you can then be sure that they are serious about putting an end to the Syrian people’s distress, that has been neglected for a long time.

The key word here is “ceasefire,” and then they can say whatever they want; they can call for a transitional and powerful government which includes both the regime and the opposition, or even call for organizing elections in the coming year where all the parties will have the right to participate.

The Syrian opposition will become divided and wrangle with its allies if it continues to discuss the “unethical” candidacy of Bashar al-Assad again, or on the absurdity of a transitional government where both sides will share responsibilities with members having their hands stained with blood. Without a binding ceasefire, there will neither be elections in Syria in 2014 nor a transitional government.

Focus on U.S. and Russia

During the expected upcoming Geneva 2 conference this month, all the attention will be focused on the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers rather than the delegations of the government and the opposition; both countries are leading the negotiations.

If we want to clarify and prove the importance of a ceasefire as a key to resolve the Syrian dilemma, we must bring back the Syrian crisis to its beginnings.

Jamal Khashoggi

It is rather an international U.S.–Saudi attempt to drag the Russians to the Security Council. The Russians have been hesitant for the past two years of massacres in Syria; They were telling the world, along with the Iranians, that there will be “no solution except a peaceful one”, recalling the agreement of the earlier Geneva conference, which called upon ceasefire and negotiations for the formation of a transitional government. All the countries were arguing about the “negotiations” and when, where and how the transitional government will be formed bringing together the regime and the opposition, without paying attention to the main condition: the “ceasefire.”

The regime and its allies do not favor the ceasefire because they can only subsist through clashes and fighting; this is why, when Assad’s government felt that there are real talks about a binding ceasefire resolution, it hesitated to go to the conference but the Russians dragged it to the negotiation table.

If we want to clarify and prove the importance of the ceasefire as a key to resolve the Syrian dilemma, we must bring back the Syrian crisis to its very first beginning: it is neither a conflict between eastern and western Syria, nor a conflict between two communities, and the opposition is not asking to augment Aleppo’s seats in the parliament while Damascus asks for certain ministries. This is why we cannot compare the upcoming Geneva conference (IF it takes place) to the Taif agreement that was held for the Lebanese parties.

The Syrian revolution was instigated by people calling for freedom, from all communities and regions; the people did not ask for factional or regional demands. The revolution in Syria is similar to the Egyptian revolution that took place in Tahrir Square before Mubarak's resignation: Egyptians forgot all their differences and joined their calls to change the regime; they called for freedom, dignity and life. Therefore we cannot consider the “ceasefire” as a temporary solution while waiting for negotiations and demarcations between the parties because there are no boundaries inside Syria and there are no opponents; there are only Syrian citizens who unanimously agreed to get rid of the current oppressive regime and establish a new Syria on the same borderless land.

The Syrian regime’s expected moves

In Geneva, the Syrian regime will seek to disdain the ceasefire resolution. It might suggest forming a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution in order to escape the decision to overthrow the regime, or might call upon the exclusion of “Takfiri” groups (the forces that the regime wished for and sought to bring into the conflict since the beginning), or even require the dismissal of foreign volunteers in Syria.

It might also claim to be a rightful regime accusing others, or perhaps it might humbly seek to waste time and efforts, and call for national reconciliation. It will do whatever it takes to avoid signing a binding document for a complete ceasefire. Rambouillet in France has witnessed a similar situation in 1999 when it hosted the Kosovo peace meetings. Americans, Russians and Europeans – the same conferees at the Geneva 2– went to the meeting knowing what was the only possible solution, but it was necessary for them to pass through a “peace process” because the Serbs and their leader Slobodan Milosevic were known for their violence and rejection for any solution.

They tried to cooperate with him during the Bosnian war few years earlier and realized that there is no way to convince him but by force. Bashar is the current Slobodan; everyone knows that he is not an elected president; he represents a community not the people, and fights for the minority not the nation’s interests.

Therefore, the only way to convince him to walk out is by force is with a few cruise missiles and airstrikes that will drag the hell he imposed on the Syrian people to his own bedroom and then he will be ready to negotiate. Russians always repeat themselves: they interrupted finding a quick and possible solution in Kosovo, and they are the ones obstructing any solution for Syria. Therefore it was necessary for the United States and Europe to drag the Russians to the French village to make them sign an agreement that did not last for long, but at least it led the NATO to do what it had to do from the beginning: bombarding.

After Geneva 2

If the Friends of Syria want to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, this is what they must do after Geneva 2. The regime will not accept the ceasefire because as soon as the ceasefire will be announced, all the Syrian cities will revolt, and all the citizens will peacefully protest against the regime.

Bashar al-Assad would not tolerate that before and he will not be able to tolerate it after all this bloodshed; Syrians now hate him more than ever. For sure, he will violate the ceasefire as Milosevic did, and then, everybody will resort to the Security Council, including the Russians, because the Geneva 2 agreement will be binding. I expect the opposition coalition and Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General Salim Idriss to sign this agreement.

Army leaders and fighting factions, especially al-Nusra Front, should know that if they violate the agreement, they will also be attacked. I believe that the regime will be unable to comply with this agreement, as the cost of the ceasefire will be overwhelming. Therefore I am uncertain about the Geneva 2 conference, unless real change takes place in Moscow, not in Damascus or Tehran. Either way, let’s wait to see if the conference will happen and expect the key word: “binding ceasefire.”

This article was first published in al-Hayat on June 1, 2013.


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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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