How to keep intra-Syrian dialogue going after Moscow talks
The future of intra-Syrian consultations depends on future steps taken by the sides of the conflict
The intra-Syrian consultations that took place in Moscow from Dec. 26 to Dec. 29 have aroused numerous speculations in recent days. Before they launched, many commentators had predicted their complete failure.
However, the talks did take place and without any scandal. And, according to the briefings that followed the end of the meeting, it was a positive step forward, which even came as a surprise to a number of participants. But the positivity should not be overestimated as much depends on the future steps taken by the sides of the conflict on both the internal and global levels.
The meeting, which wasn’t intended to replace the Geneva format, was attended by more than 39 representatives from the Syrian opposition, civil society and government forces. But the key opposition force, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), was absent. The SNC has, however, issued a document to the participants stating its position.
Lacking an agenda, or preconditions, the meeting focused on identifying those moments, perceptions and ideas that can, firstly, unite the fragmented opposition forces and, secondly, establish a background for the talks with Damascus.
It’s quiet clear that starting negotiations that focus primarily on divisive topics is counterproductive and would lead to deepening of divisions.
No document having any legal force, nor any memorandum was signed during the talks and the organizers of the meeting didn’t propose to sign any by the end of it. However, the participants did agree on 11 principles, which in a way supplement the Geneva I principles. The fact that the sides agreed on them unanimously is a true breakthrough.
The 11 principles
The 11 principles that the parties agreed to are:
1. To preserve the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic, its unity and territorial integrity.
2. To combat international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and the desire to consolidate the efforts in the fight against terrorists and extremists on Syrian soil.
3. To resolve the crisis in Syria by peaceful political means, on the basis of mutual consent and the Geneva communiqué of June 30, 2012.
4. The future of Syria should be determined by the democratic will of the Syrian people.
5. The inadmissibility of external interference in Syrian affairs.
6. To maintain the continuity of functioning of state institutions, including the army, armed forces, reform their only legal methods.
7. To provide civil peace through full participation of all parts of the Syrian people in the political and socio-economic life of the country, the legislative and the practical implementation of the equality of all ethnic and religious groups.
8. The rule of law and equality of all citizens before the law.
9. There should not be any armed foreign presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government.
10. The occupation of the Golan Heights should end. (This point, which the governmental delegation had insisted on going into the talks, was stricken off the list the next day after the meeting due to its controversy given the current circumstances).
11. Sanctions against the Syrian people should be lifted.
It should be noted that there were four more points in another paper, the so-called “appeal to the international community,” that were also unanimously supported. The participants appealed for more humanitarian aid and the softening of sanctions, as the latter dramatically influence the life of ordinary Syrians at all levels and in all Syrian regions, particularly given the growing lack of essential commodities.
The sides also called for condemning Israeli attacks on Syria and Lebanon and then to condemn the foreign interference in Syria.
Proposed by the Russian side in the face of the scientist, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Dr. Vitaly Naumkin, who was the moderator of the meeting, these principles were criticized by some commentators as imposed ones. However, the revelations of the participants demonstrate that the initial document was edited during the meeting and the principles included in the text are supported by all the sides (even the one pertaining to the Golan Heights).
The parties decided to hold one more round in Moscow. Although the date has yet to be set, the next round will most likely take place in March and the host side expects the SNC to be present. Russia will try to get the SNC to join the round table through Turkey, with which Russia has had a positive period of bilateral relations despite discord in perceptions over the Syrian crisis.
The initiative is promising but belated, considering the death toll of the Syrian conflict. This kind of meeting should have taken place before Geneva I or II in order to make the opposition and civil society representatives elaborate a common ground to represent the Syrians that support them.
This kind of meeting should have taken place before Geneva I or II in order to make the opposition and civil society representatives elaborate a common ground to represent the Syrians that support them.Maria Dubovikova
The initiative, however, risks falling into problems that could reduce its impact to zero, despite the great potential and possibilities it represents for the Syrian people.
Firstly, and taking into account the global framework that is conditioned by the tensions between Russia and the West, Western powers would hardly allow Russia to become the effective peacemaker in the Syrian puzzle. However, it should be admitted that the United States has supported the initiative but the skepticism there and in Europe has been high.
Another problem lies in combatting groups on Syrian territory – this concerns the armed opposition groups and those who often have concrete goals, change their affiliation, etc. It’s quiet clear that it would be difficult to make the guns cease shooting.
Then there is the problem of foreign fighters and mercenaries on Syrian soil who have nothing in common with the Syrian people and pose a true threat to Syria and Syrians.
Another huge problem that can complicate the peace process is the presence of numerous terrorist groups that operate on Syrian territory that is not under government control and not occupied by ISIS. The illegal traffic of weapons in the area poses also a great problem.
Despite the obstacles, Syria for the first time has a true chance to reach a political settlement, stop the bloodshed and unite all the Syrian forces to counter the major threat: ISIS.
Despite the obstacles, Syria for the first time has a true chance to reach a political settlement, stop the bloodshed and unite all the Syrian forces to counter the major threat: ISIS.Maria Dubovikova
Several obstacles can be overcome if, for example, the West takes a more flexible position and helps the initiative succeed. Furthermore, the West is needed to solve the problem of the growing humanitarian crisis that has led to the sufferings of civilians. The Western players should also rethink their policy in terms of lethal aid to the rebels which would fuel the conflict and not contribute to its settlement. Moreover, Western powers can influence the NSC to join the future consultations to make the initiative a more effective instrument and to prepare the background for effective U.N. Geneva III talks.
The international community should join the forces involved in trying to secure a settlement to the Syrian conflict. They should, with the united Syrian people – Arabs, tribes, Kurds and other ethnic groups comprising Syrian society – counter the great threat of ISIS. ISIS is not just a threat for the international community: for the Syrian people, as well as for the Iraqis, ISIS is a part of everyday reality that takes numerous lives of their brethren. The result of this initiative depends mostly on how it is perceived by the sides and members of the international community, and then on the host side.
The international community should decide on what is more important – personal ambitions and a geopolitical chess game or the fate of several peoples and even of the whole world.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme