Here’s why Geneva talks can succeed
Russia's withdrawal from Syria was welcomed in Geneva and seen as a sign of significant progress
The opening day of Syria peace talks in Geneva ended with a major surprise. It was announced that Russia is withdrawing its forces from Syria, beginning March 15, the following day of the talks. President Vladimir Putin said his country’s military intervention had largely achieved its objectives, which essentially meant he has helped Bashar al-Assad gain an upper hand in his talks with the opposition.
Putin’s announcement was largely welcomed in Geneva and was seen as a sign of significant progress being made at the talks. The UN envoy to Syria, Mr. Steffan de Mistura, held a meeting with the opposition after holding talks with the Syrian government representatives.
The buzz had spread far and wide. “If there is seriousness in implementing the withdrawal, it will give the [peace] talks a positive push,” Salim al-Muslat, spokesman for the opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, said. The onus was now on the members of the opposition to evaluate the consequences of Russian withdrawal and what they could bring to the table to discuss with Mr. De Mistura.
There has been a sense of certainty in Geneva – especially among diplomats – that the ground had been prepared for this round of talks, days in advance. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov raised the level of expectations even prior to the talks.
Besides the attitude of the Syrian regime and the opposition, there were other factors lurking in the background in Geneva. Mediators were working overtime to achieve the goals. It was obvious that if all sides agreed, issues such as election dates and the future of Assad could have come up for discussion.
Russia has made a statement by withdrawing its forces and it is now up to the two sides, and their supporters, to make compromises in order to achieve peace. The fragile security in Turkey, following explosions in Istanbul and Ankara, have raised alarm and is indeed a matter of concern in the neighborhood. It is obvious that Turkey has changed its position to safeguard its national security and to end the refugee crisis in the country.
On Monday Mr. De Mistura said that mediators are exerting pressure to maximize the opportunities for peace. On the other hand, Assad’s office said in a statement that it agreed with the Russian move to withdraw from Syria. I reckon the Syrian opposition, and may be even the Iranians, welcome Putin’s decision.
A post-Assad era also means outlining the political and economic realities – that Iran cannot economically or politically expense any more resources into propping up the Syrian regimeCamelia Entekhabi-Fard
Concerns have been so frequently expressed over Russia’s expanded presence in Syria that it probably even makes Iranian nervous even though they don’t talk about it. The economic cost of Iran’s actions in Syria has taken its toll and has pressed the Tehran regime hard.
The number of Iranians killed in Syria and the public anger against the country’s involvement has left some political leaders concerned. Key players also realize that after five years of conflict a political solution is the only way forward. Military action alone cannot address all the issues at hand.
A post-Assad era also means outlining the political and economic realities – that Iran cannot economically or politically expense any more resources into propping up the Syrian regime. This is more so if the investment doesn’t yield adequate returns.
Assad is not really supporting Iranian military objectives and is also not providing meaningful concessions that might justify Iran’s continued involvement in Syria. All these reasons plus the global outcry to end this shameful war, give us the sense that the Geneva 3 talks may succeed.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard