by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)
The Geneva-II Conference was not intended to usher peace in war-torn Syria. The participants talked past each other and only traded accusations. Nothing was achieved; none was expected.
The Geneva conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva-II, was a failure even before it started on January 22 in Montreux, outside Geneva in Switzerland. The surreal nature of the gathering was evident from the fact that those present, apart from the Syrian government delegation had little to do with Syria. The so-called Syrian opposition in the form of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) does not have any support inside Syria. They were there because the US insisted on their presence. Foreign ministers from nearly 40 countries, the UN Secretary General Bani Ki-moon and the UN-Arab League Special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were also present, ostensibly to facilitate the talks. There was plenty of talk but it did not get anywhere.
Even before the conference was convened, there were problems. On January 19, Ban Ki-moon invited the Islamic Republic of Iran to attend Geneva-II acknowledging its important role in facilitating the talks and contributing to a solution to the three-year-old conflict. Tehran had consistently maintained that it would attend without preconditions. The SNC immediately objected to Iran’s participation and US Secretary of State John Kerry realized that the conference jointly sponsored with Russia would fall apart if the SNC were not there.
Kerry came up with the ludicrous demand that Iran must accept the Geneva-I communiqué before it could attend. It was obvious — and Iran had repeatedly made clear that it would accept no preconditions — that this was a non-starter. Iran said it was not party to Geneva-I and would therefore accept no such conditions. Within 24 hours, Ban Ki-moon withdrew Tehran’s invitation thereby dooming the conference before it had even started. It did not matter to Iran but what it resulted in was that the conference turned into a farce. Without the participation of Iran that could have made constructive proposals, the conference degenerated into name calling and trading accusations.
On the first day, there were long-winded speeches from all sides and Kerry made the ludicrous assertion that there was no room for President Bashar al-Asad in the transitional government, as stipulated in the Geneva-I communiqué. There is no such clause in the Geneva-I agreement of June 2012. All it says is that a transitional government would be formed through mutual agreement between the government and the opposition. Kerry interpreted this to mean that mutual agreement meant that if the opposition objected to al-Asad’s presence in the transitional government, then he must go. How he came to this conclusion, nobody could fathom. And why the opposition’s objection should be paramount, especially when it does not represent all the opposition groups, was not explained either.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem would have none of this. He told Kerry as well as those present at the conference, “No one in the world has the right to confer or withdraw the legitimacy of a president, a constitution or a law, except for the Syrians themselves.” He insisted that this would be determined through elections in Syria to be held later this year.
This is the nightmare scenario that the SNC dreads. It has no support inside Syria, its motley collection of members handpicked by the US, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have lived in five-star hotels in Western capitals all their lives. They do not even speak for the entire opposition. In an interview with CNN, Buthaina Shabaan, advisor to President al-Asad, told Wolf Blitzer that members of the SNC were not opposition “leaders.” “They do not have the support of even five people inside Syria.” Blitzer, a hardcore Zionist who represents Israel’s interests, was undeterred; he kept parroting the “opposition leaders” line disregarding reality completely.
Geneva-II, however, exposed the SNC’s lack of support. When the Syrian government delegation proposed that it would allow civilians — women and children — to leave the besieged city of Homs, the Saudi-backed terrorists refused. They insisted that the Syrian government must give prior commitment that it would not arrest anyone, including fighters, leaving the city. Damascus was willing to consider even this but wanted the names of people in advance to give them clearance. The terrorists’ demands showed that the SNC has no influence on the ground; the Saudi-backed and armed thugs do, and they are not interested in a solution. Starving Syrian civilians gives them a propaganda tool to blame the government for not allowing food for the people. Most of the food is pilfered by the armed thugs anyway.
After the first day of long-winded speeches, the conference moved to the UN building in Geneva. The luckless Lakhdar Brahimi tried gamely to get the two sides to talk. On the second day, they would not even sit in the same room and the elderly Brahimi had to shuttle back and forth carrying messages from the two sides. On the third day, he got them into the same room but again the two sides would not talk to each other directly. Further, Ahmed Jarba, the US-installed head of the SNC, refused to attend so the Syrian delegation sent its UN ambassador Ali Jafari. Foreign Minister Muallem and his deputy, Faisal Mekdad stayed away.
By January 28, Brahimi had become so frustrated that he cancelled the afternoon session and said the meeting would resume the following morning (January 29) making clear that he was not expecting any breakthroughs or major developments. If the opposition could not agree even to the release of trapped civilians under rebel control, how could they guarantee any political agreement?
Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem had posed this question to the opposition during the opening ceremony at Montreux. He asked if they had any tools to bring about change on the ground, they why don’t they separate from the militant groups. The opposition cut a sorry figure. It not only demonstrated its lack of influence in Syria but also exposed its lack of control over the foreign-backed terrorists.
The Syrian delegation correctly surmised that the problem in Syria is not domestic but foreign instigated. Unless the foreign sponsors of terrorists, primarily regimes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey stop sending arms and manpower to support terrorism, there will be no peace in Syria. The Geneva-II, however, did not even touch on this aspect despite the bold attempt by Muallem to draw attention to it. He called for a joint effort to wage war against terrorism but regrettably, the West’s approach is selective. It targets those that fight against Western imperialism but supports and finances those terrorists that advance its imperial agenda.
There is only one way out of the mess: elections to determine the wishes of the Syrian people. This is what Iran’s President Hassan Rohani proposed at the World Economic Forum in Davos when he called for new elections in Syria and pledged that Iran would respect the results. The proposal was made at the same time as the Geneva meeting was underway. “The best solution is to organize a free and fair election in Syria. And once the ballots are cast, we should all accept the outcome. Decision making is for the Syrian people to do and they are the ones who should determine their own future, and in doing so, the first condition is that bloodshed be stopped and certain countries give up supporting terrorism,” he added.
It is interesting to note that the regional sponsors of terrorism that are so waxed about the rights of the Syrian people deny these very rights to their own people. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive cars but in Syria they even fly planes. There have never been any elections in the desert kingdom or any accountability of how the state’s resources are spent. It is a family fiefdom in which the people have no rights whatsoever yet they claim to be supporting the rights of the Syrian people. Wouldn’t the Saudi concern be more productively utilized if the people there were given some basic rights?
The issue, however, is not about the rights of the Syrian people. It is a US-Zionist-Saudi plot to undermine the resistance front against Zionist colonialism. Syria is an important pillar of the resistance front that the terrible trio is trying to undermine, unsuccessfully so far. Will they realize the error of their ways? No one should hold his breath. The bloodletting will continue in Syria until one side wins an outright victory or the terrorists’ foreign sponsors give up.
That may be some time away but with the terrorists at each other’s throats Syrian government forces are beginning to make slow but steady progress. It is possible that by summer, there may be sufficient progress toward winding down the war that might give the long suffering people some respite from the mayhem in Syria. Geneva-II would have played little or no role in this.