Syrians cannot afford a Geneva III
It is incredible that the Syrian regime agreed to participate if this is the basis for the talks
Geneva II has actually started even if peace-making has not. So many analysts, intellectuals, twitterati declared definitively it would never happen. It is the first time that representatives of the Syrian regime are directly or indirectly engaging with elements of the Syrian opposition in an international forum.
What is extraordinary when you read back through the communiqué and the six-point plan of Kofi Annan is that it incorporates so much of what a fully signed up member of the Syrian opposition might desire. It demands a complete cessation of all violence. There would be a transitional government made up of some of the current regime and some from the opposition but with full executive powers.
There would be freedom of assembly, so protests could take place freely. This would be the precursor to a democratic multi-party Syria. There would be a release of prisoners and full humanitarian access. There would be accountability for crimes committed. Whisper it but perhaps Kofi Annan should have got more credit than he did at the time.
It is incredible that the Syrian regime agreed to participate if this is the basis for the talks. Iran clearly disapproved of the text, as revealed in the diplomatic farce of Monday’s in-out invitation saga. Bringing Iran into the talks will at some stage be essential given the scale of its role. Its disinvitation emphasises one key point – that the Geneva communiqué is the basis for these talks, and a reminder, yes, that the Syrian regime accepted it both in 2012 and now in 2014 by agreeing to attend.
The sad reality is that although the regime accepted the Geneva Communiqué it has no desire to abide by it. For the regime Geneva is about terrorism; for the opposition, it is transitionChris Doyle
The Syrian opposition delegation to Geneva should be armed with multiple copies of 30 June communiqué. They should learn it by heart. It should be their manifesto quoted ad nauseam.
That is the end of my optimism and optimism was not invited to Geneva. It has taken 18 months from Geneva one. At that time around 15,000 Syrians had been killed, a number that has now reached in excess of 130,000. There were 78,000 refugees back then, minute in comparison to the 2.3 million who languish beyond Syria’s borders today. Chemical weapons have been used. In the 21st century, starvation is being used a mass weapon of war.
Opening day theatrics
None of the requisite urgency and determination to the end the crisis was on display in the opening days theatrics. TV cameras do not mix with negotiations. Starting such delicate talks in public inevitably led to all the parties playing up to the galleries not pushing for peace. They were talking past each other not to each other. Was it really necessary to have the representatives of 40 countries present?
The failure of the major powers to push the original Geneva communiqué through led to the resignation of Kofi Annan as Joint U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy. He was bitterly disappointed that the parties did not commit to implementing what they had agreed. Remember its political strength stemmed from being agreed by both the U.S. and Russia as well as the Assad regime itself. Sadly many of those who backed the document dropped it in the false expectation that their side would win, this in a conflict where there will be no winners.
The sad reality is that although the regime accepted the Geneva Communiqué it has no desire to abide by it. For the regime Geneva is about terrorism; for the opposition, it is transition. On the ground all the fighting groups are similarly dismissive.
What is troubling is that the Syrians at Geneva II do not believe in a political process nor do some of the key international actors. Too many still crave an all-out military victory despite the evidence of the last three years that shows that neither side is likely to knock the other out. All this contrasts with so many Syrians on the ground whose daily wish is an end to this interminable horror.
This is why so many diplomats and U.N. officials are keen to get more Syrian women involved in the process but also Syrian civil society. Indeed, the greater the input from Syrians inside Syria the better. One desirable transition is that of disempowering the men, and it is men, of violence and force, to people who cherish peace and freedom.
The worst outcome of Geneva II is that we wait another 18-months for Geneva III. To avoid this, it requires the US and Russia to work together not in opposition. Regional players have to stop using Syria as their battleground, and there should be the Syrian-led solution that Geneva envisaged.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in in April, November, December and January 2013 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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