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Ceasefire first, Geneva talks second

The Geneva talks are a time-wasting déjà vu story in the Middle East, and a reflection of international discord

Mohamed Chebarro

Published: Updated:

It would not be an exaggeration to describe the Geneva III meeting as dead before it even starts.

The words of the special U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura at his press conference in the Swiss city this week showed a U.N. official in trouble.

His mandate - and specially the details of Resolution 2254, which set a roadmap for a peace process - are not going to be implemented.

So all that he could hope for is a gathering of many Syrians, representative of the Syrian people or not, discussing abstract concepts about the future constitution of the war-torn country, the transitional government and its mandate and powers.

The delegates could also discuss the planned future ceasefire and possibly how to contain the ever-escalating humanitarian crisis which has displaced more than 12 million Syrians, and not to forget how best to facilitate the war on ISIS.

This pessimism emanates from a simple fact known in every conflict and throughout history: the most urgent and most crucial step to kick-start a peace process is when all the parties (regardless of whether they are victors or vanquished) show resolve and commitment to settle their differences.

Warring sides

The warring parties can then agree to stop the killing and agree to a ceasefire that in itself will be the cornerstone for the start of negotiations and a search for a settlement.

Yes, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces might not be part of such a ceasefire, but at least a cessation of violence gives most parties a serious indication that it is time to sharpen their negotiating skills.

When taking a closer look at Mr. de Mistura’s sketch of what could be described as negotiations, one is shocked to see that the talks will be proximate, i.e. indirect.

Those talks will lack two clear groups - one representing the Assad regime, and another the opposition battling his government.

Since the start of the peaceful uprising against Assad’s dynastic four-decade rule, Damascus manufactured its so-called loyal peaceful opposition, and presented them as loosely-knit figures and parties that act as smokescreen apologists for the regime and its crimes.

Last but not least, Russia and by default the U.S. are pushing for a Syria Kurdish party to have a place in Geneva. The group was once seen as being pro-Assad and it has always called for an autonomous self-styled Syrian Kurdish region in northern Syria.

Lack of resolve

Against such a landscape, even the most optimistic see in the six-month timeframe suggested for the talks a sign of continued lack of international resolve to end one of the most barbaric conflicts the world has witnessed since the Second World War.

Assad’s regime is still mercilessly bombing towns and villages known to be the hotbed of Syrians opposed to his rule, killing and maiming his own people. His forces, with help from foreign Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani and Lebanese militias, are advancing on a few strategic fronts north and south of the country.

The Russian air force continues its onslaught, targeting groups that were once seen as moderate opposition movements.

The U.S. and 60-plus countries fighting ISIS are having little or no success in limiting the spread of the terror group’s controlling of regions in Syria and Iraq and lately Libya.

Syrian refugees meanwhile are continuing a never-ending exodus west towards Europe, shackling the union with discord and unparalleled demographic questions unseen since its inception.

Time-wasting story

In short, the Geneva talks are a time-wasting déjà vu story in the Middle East, and a reflection of international discord.

From April 2012 until Dec. 2015, eight U.N. resolutions dealt with the Syrian crisis. Only one touched the core issue when Resolution 2254 called for an immediate ceasefire. Similarly, Geneva I, like Geneva II and III called vaguely for an immediate cease fire and the end of barrel bombing and city and town sieges, but to no avail.

Envoy after envoy went to Syria and failed. In Geneva or in Vienna, the same process resulting in the same failure awaits Mr de Mistura.

In an age where President Obama decided to cede U.S. supremacy and act as a head of state lacking resolve, President Putin intervened to fill that void in a Tsarist assertive imperialist fashion of days gone by. The Russian leader’s sole objective has been to bruise Western imperialist powers such as the US, Europe and their allies beyond.

In such an environment, regional players are emboldened to embark on power trips beyond their means.

That is why the Syrian conflict calls on the world to convene a historic meeting that could address regional and international differences. The meeting must first enforce a ceasefire, prior to launching a clear agenda for the settlement and rebuilding of Syria.

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Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

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