Syria talks are a failure, but attending is important

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The Syrian opposition delegation, which arrived in Geneva to join U.N.-mediated peace talks, seems to be solid despite the losses inflicted on it due to recent Russian shelling and which most recently led to the loss of the Sheikh Miskeen town to the regime forces. The delegation consists of 17 opposition figures and is headed by Riad Hijab who is respected by most factions.

Hijab was appointed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as prime minister in June 2012, after chaos had erupted. However, he defected three months later to Jordan with the help of the opposition Free Syrian Army. During the past three years, he has chosen to work politically with opposition forces without getting involved in their disputes. This is why his name was agreed upon as head of the delegation of opposition factions and forces.

By attending the negotiations, the opposition will have made the first step in a long process in Geneva - a process which the U.N. estimates will require six months to finalize given its major points are clear but details aren’t. Initial estimates predicted the opposition’s failure to reach an agreement over its delegation. However, the agreement was indeed reached and Hijab was chosen to head its delegation.

Geneva talks and the U.N. cannot impose what the Syrian majority rejects

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The preliminary requirements imposed on it, which also appear reasonable, has indeed been met. The delegation’s policy is not to give an opportunity to the Syrian regime and its allies, Iran and Russia, to sit with the international community represented by the U.N. and its envoy Staffan de Mistura. The opposition is aware that six months are enough to examine political intents and plans and in the end they can reject these negotiations and resume besieging the Syrian regime.

Meeting demands?

Are major and urgent demands, such as ceasefire, possible to achieve? It will be easy for the opposition to accept such demands if it is allowed to manage the areas it controls. The opposition will also not be responsible for the activities taking place in zones controlled by terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

Can negotiators impose the same conditions on the Assad regime, the Iranians and the Russians and have them stop military operations? This is the challenge confronting the U.N. team and sponsoring countries. Reports of Russian air force shelling refugee camps north of Latakia yesterday and the destruction of refugees’ tents forcing thousands to flee across the border point to the nature of the challenge they face.

Russia, Iran and Hezbollah’s operations targeting the Syrian people must be protested and they must be a priority at the Geneva talks. Russians and Iranians must not view these negotiations as a chance to resume ethnic cleansing and to pursue military progress on ground.

Amid agreeing on truce and opening passages, limiting conflict zones, agreeing on exchange of prisoners and delivering aid, some time will indeed pass before the future of governance in Syria is discussed. This is, in fact, the reason behind the war and the objective behind holding the Geneva conference. Truth be told, no one is optimistic that the Geneva conference will finalize the dispute as this is a political conference which has different and undeclared aims.

The U.S. administration wants to spend the rest of this year performing diplomatic activity so it is not accused of carelessness while dealing with the most dangerous conflict which affects peace in the world today. Meanwhile, all what the Europeans care about is curbing the influx of refugees who are heading towards their countries. As for the Russians, they think they can impose a political solution that forces the opposition to surrender to Assad’s governance while granting it (the opposition) marginal seats in a symbolic government.

So why is the opposition taking part in these talks? First of all, it will not lose anything by attending it. If the opposition stays away from talks, it will somehow restore international legitimacy to the Assad regime. So it is attending to challenge the Syrian regime. The previous Geneva conference was held almost two years ago. On that occasion, the Assad regime said it will eliminate the opposition within a year. However, it failed to do so despite help from Iranians and then the Russians.

Therefore the Geneva talks and the U.N. cannot impose what the Syrian majority rejects. The war which is consuming Iran and Russia’s capabilities will go on while the Syrian regime will not recover regardless of how hard its allies support it because it has become paralyzed after losing most of its military and security forces.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 31, 2016.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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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