Syria: Hope despite obstacles
Peace talks in Geneva broke down in April as the opposition refused to continue to participate as violence in Syria worsened despite the ceasefire agreement
The Syrian conflict is witnessing a lull, both on the ground and in the media. Efforts undertaken by international players, notably Russia and the United States, have revived the weak truce in Syria, renewing hope for peace talks. Ending the conflict depends on whether international players succeed in cooperating.
Peace talks in Geneva broke down in April as the opposition refused to continue to participate as violence in Syria worsened despite the ceasefire agreement. The U.N. special envoy to Syria expressed hope that talks would resume by the end of May. To achieve this, the sides need to work hard on a stable climate and confidence-building. There is no hope for building trust until a credible, lasting ceasefire is achieved.
The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) met on Tuesday in Vienna. The parties, most of them involved in the conflict, discussed vital humanitarian issues and ways to enforce the truce. The ISSG warned that parties violating it would be excluded from the talks, and that violence would no longer be tolerated. Areas in need that are inaccessible by ground will continue getting aid via air drops if the problem of ground access is not solved by June.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not abide by international agreements or efforts to establish a truce, alternative solutions should be found.
The problem remains Assad’s fate - demands that he step down continue to be rejected.
There is much to be pessimistic about, but the intensity of international diplomatic efforts provides hope.Maria Dubovikova
Involved parties’ contradictory interests are also impeding peace talks. Very reasonably, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said ending the conflict meant that “a variety of competing interests are going to have to be reconciled.” The priority of the parties involved in the conflict should be peace-building, not realizing national interests within a geopolitical framework.
The Kurdish matter is another problem for regional players, because accepting a Kurdish presence in talks would de-facto mean recognizing aspirations for their own state. A Kurdish state may aggravate the regional climate and fuel violence.
The devil is in the details, so questions over transitional justice, the political system, and whether Syria should be secular or religious raise even more questions and problems to be solved. The situation is aggravated by the presence of terrorist organizations that are dispersed within the ranks of opposition groups. Terrorist and Islamist groups should be excluded from the ceasefire, and should not be seen as allies by any of the warring sides.
Russia is key to a sustainable ceasefire, as it has the strongest influence on Damascus. It is vital to make Assad respect the ceasefire unquestionably. There is much to be pessimistic about, but the intensity of international diplomatic efforts provides hope.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme