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Guesswork on Syria shrouds Geneva II

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

When it comes to Syria, there are never clear-cut answers. Speculation, uncertainty, suspicion and mistrust persist without affirmation.

Even with increasing talk about the Geneva II peace conference, the Syrian situation still remains a matter of "guesswork.| There appears to be no lasting and, more importantly, feasible solutions to emerge from the long-awaited forum that can bring an end to the 31-month-old Syrian conflict.

The peace conference, which Russia and the U.S. have been trying to arrange for the past five months, is already engulfed with skepticism. Who will meet with whom and what is to be discussed is still undetermined with time running out for the conference slated for November. All preliminary indications reveal that the peace conference on Syria in the Swiss capital will be another long chapter in the Syrian drama but not its closing scene.

Against diplomatic norms

Despite the diplomatic norm that peace negotiations occur only after a ceasefire, such a precondition is so far absent ahead of Geneva II. Furthermore, there has been no talk of a UN monitored cessation of hostilities in Syria to be taken as a sign of good will or an indication of seriousness on the side of the U.S. and Russia to end the Syrian war. Negotiating while violence persists will certainly change nothing.

Another major hindrance to a successful Geneva II is the anticipated absence of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). Paradoxically, while UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was underlying the need for a "credible" Syrian opposition as a prerequisite for the meeting, he is also not scheduled to meet the SNC. That is, if the SNC is actually a "credible" body in the eyes of Brahimi, Russia and the U.S.

Aside from agreeing or not agreeing on Al-assad's departure, confining the Syrian crisis only to who will rule is minimizing and underestimating the bigger issues that have resulted from the 31-month-old conflict.

Raed Omari

Accompanied by the Arab League Chief Nabil al-Arab, Brahimi recently told a press conference that the meeting [Geneva II] would only go ahead in the presence of a "credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people," opposed to Syrian President Bashar Al-assad. However, no Syrian opposition body has been accredited yet.

In order for a peace conference to be successful it must have a timetable and agenda with no preconditions. This, also, has not been settled yet. Both sides, the regime and the opposition, are so far unwilling to give up their preconditions with the former insisting on the absence of any provisions stipulating Al-assad's departure and the latter threatening not to go if no such deal is reached.

A divided opposition and a confident regime

In addition to not being deemed “credible” Syrian opposition, the SNC and its affiliated bodies now more than ever suffer from internal disputes over whether to attend Geneva II and what to discuss. Recently, the Syrian National Council, the largest bloc in the national opposition coalition, has said it will not attend any peace talks where it would have to deal with the Syrian government.

During the meeting of 11 nations known as the Friends of Syria in London, SNC spokesman Khalid Saleh reportedly expressed reservations about Geneva II if it does not specify Al-assad's departure.

"We believe that there is a very important element that is missing from the Geneva Communique, it is very silent on the issue of what's going to happen to Bashar Al-assad during the transitional period, what's going to happen to him in a future Syria. We have made it very clear: in order for us to have peace and stability, law and order in Syria, the person who is responsible for killing over 120,000 Syrians can not have place in a transitional government, can not have any place in a future political process in Syria," Saleh was reported as saying.

However, this view appears to be inconsistent by other coalition members who support talks with the Syrian government. Farah al-Attasi, an outspoken member of the SNC, has been reportedly quoted as expressing dismay over the coalition's division, pushing for going to Geneva II but also insisting on Al-assad's departure.

"It's not the time for more fragmentation, we need more unity … all of us agree that the regime must go. Not the opposition but Assad thugs should be punished for killing Syrian people. However, I and so many other members of the Syrian coalition don't think the answer is rejecting Geneva talks. We should play that political game,” she was quoted as saying.

Reversely, the Syrian regime seems to be confident, speaking with ease about the conference and with arrogance about the opposition. During a recent interview aired earlier this week on Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, Al-assad, the Russian-backed president, also casted doubt on Geneva II, questioning at the same time the credibility of the Syrian opposition and their representation of the Syrian people. "Who are the groups that will participate in Geneva? What is their relationship with the Syrian people? Do they represent the Syrian people? Do they represent the country that made them?" Al-assad said.

Asserting that the factors that guarantee the success of Geneva II have not been ready yet Assad said that his government will attend the forum. The President Bashar Assad also said that there is no obstacle preventing him from running for the next presidential elections in 2014, stressing, at the same time, it was too early to discuss the issue before the announcement of the election date.

An agreement behind closed doors

It is hard actually to view Al-assad's remarks separate from the Russian stance on Syria. The direct reason behind his confident and arrogant tone is the support dictated by the Russians. It is also hard to say that the issues to be discussed during Geneva conference will be not be prepared and agreed on before by the Russians and the Americans as the war in Syria has inevitably turned into a clash of interests between the two Titans.

Depending on Al-assad's remarks, the Americans and the Russians have most likely agreed on the importance of Al-assad making compromises along with the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's recent related remarks, all which hint at behind the scene agreements.

During meetings in Paris recently with Qatari and Saudi officials, Kerry warned there can be no peaceful solution as long as Assad remains in power and criticized him for alluding to running in the 2014 presidential election.

"Now I don't know anyone who believes the opposition will ever consent to Bashar Al-assad being part of that [transitional] government. And if he [Al-assad] thinks he's going to solve problems by running for re-election I can say to him, I think with certainty, this war will not end as long as that's the case or he [Assad] is there," Kerry has reportedly said.

Aside from agreeing or not agreeing on Al-assad's departure, confining the Syrian crisis only to who will rule is minimizing and underestimating the bigger issues that have resulted from the 31-month-old conflict.

What about the more than two million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and other countries and the other two million displaced seeking refuge somewhere safe inside their war-torn country? What about the hundreds of thousands of prisoners and what about the prosecution of those who killed more than 115,000 Syrians?

In conclusion, with no comprehensive agenda to be discussed during Geneva II, along with the prevalent frustrating atmosphere of divided opposition which is still not recognized, and an arrogant regime, the peace conference is expected to signal a just another political dispute in the on-going Syrian crisis.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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