What Is Required for Success of Geneva 2 Conference?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mohammad Khajouei
Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies

Following a recent agreement which reached between the United States and Russia on May 7, 2013, an international conference on the crisis in Syria will be held next month in the Swiss city of Geneva. A similar conference was held in the same city in June 2012 though the participants failed to find a window of opportunity in order to put an end to crisis in Syria. Therefore, the question is what guarantees are there to prevent Geneva 2 conference from meeting the same fate as its predecessor which was held last year?

The crisis in Syria is becoming more complicated with every passing day and hopes for finding a peaceful solution to this crisis become dimmer. The violent clashes in the Arab country have already entered their third year. The conflicts have so far left about 80,000 people dead and tens of thousands of others injured. Also, in addition to wreaking havoc to a large part of the country, the violent conflicts in Syria have rendered homeless about one-fourth of the country’s population who are currently living in neighboring states as refugees.

The main factor which has caused prolongation of Syria crisis and also caused it to engulf the entire country is the extensive role played by regional and transregional powers in the war-torn country. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Syria is actually the gravity center of security and stability in the region. Naturally, different powers and political players are trying to secure their hold on this strategically important region.

In the meantime, the conflict of viewpoints and interests among these players and their efforts to find allies in Syria have further exacerbated conflicts in the country and have actually turned them into a proxy war among major powers. In other words, Syria has turned into a playground where every political player is trying to gain dominance over others.

Just in the same way that the continuation of the crisis in Syria is a result of the high number of foreign players influencing the Syria war and the conflict of interests among them, the solution to the crisis in the country can be only found through an agreement among those powers.

Since the next Geneva conference is going to be held pursuant to an agreement between the two extremes of the long continuum of political players in Syria – that is, the United States and Russia –, it would be logical to assume that it could provide a good opportunity for the settlement of the existing disputes. This, however, is only hopeful wishing as its realization depends on certain conditions to be met.

It seems that the first condition for the success of the Geneva conference is presence of “all” players that are influential in the existing situation in Syria, especially foreign powers involved in the country. This is an experience which has been already gained through Geneva 1 conference and all involved parties should do their best to avoid repeating the same failed experience twice. The absence of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and some of Syria’s neighbors in Geneva 1 conference was a stumbling block which did not allow the participants to emerge successful from the confab. It is only regretful that certain parties, especially the United States, are once again trying to prevent some other parties, such as Iran, from taking part in Geneva 2 conference. Of course, this time around, their efforts have been met with some degree of opposition from other involved parties. To justify its bid for preventing participation of Iran in Geneva conference, the United States has pointed to Iran's assistance to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, the United States is explicitly supporting the opposition forces fighting against the Syria government. The main differential point between different approaches taken by Iran and the United States to Syria crisis is that in international diplomacy, interchanges between two governments are considered more acceptable and justifiable than interactions between a state and an opposition current in another country. As said before, presence of all involved parties in Geneva 2 conference is necessary condition for the success of the event, but it is not enough. Presence of all parties can be only useful when all of them are willing to achieve an agreement within a clearly defined framework.

The crisis in Syria has become so critical and the violence has become so runaway and out of hand that it seems all involved parties are gradually losing their grip on the situation in the Arab country. Under these circumstances, leaving Syria on its own and not taking a rapid and sensible measure will further exacerbate the situation in this country to the extent that none of the involved parties will emerge victorious and all of them will share a common defeat.

It seems that foreign powers with any degree of influence on the ongoing crisis in Syria should suffice to meeting a minimum of their demands and reach an agreement in order to put an end to violence while lending support to political process in Syria. This is not merely an ethical piece of advice, but it happens to be a logical and sensible recommendation which is in line with the national interests of all the involved parties in Syria.

All we said about participation in Geneva 2 conference of all the parties involved in Syria crisis in order to achieve an overarching agreement is secondary to the will, determination and decision which should be shown by both the Syrian government and opposition. In the absence of a primary agreement between these two entities, there would be no possibility for the achievement of a broader and fruitful agreement among other parties.

There is no doubt that violent clashes and a civil war during which conditions are constantly changing in a seesaw manner will neither benefit the government, nor the opposition. It also goes without saying that none of the two sides is powerful enough to completely overcome the opposite side. It is here that insistence on unilateral positions which require lack of regard for the opposite side’s demands will emerge as a serious barrier to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The most important aspect of a possible agreement in Geneva 2 conference can be to help bring about a cease-fire, even a temporary one, between the belligerent sides in Syria. Undoubtedly, the cease-fire should be based on an agreement for the initiation of bilateral talks between the Syrian government and the opposition without precondition and with the goal of the establishment of a transitional government. Although some parties have pointed to the issue of Assad remaining in power or stepping down as a barrier on the way of negotiations between the government and the opposition, it seems that if brought up within a well-defined framework during negotiations and in parallel to other issue, the two sides would be able to achieve an agreement over this issue as well.

Under conditions when the opposition insists that removal of Assad should be precondition for the beginning of any possible negotiations, it would be quite normal for the Syrian government to not only oppose this request in order to prove that it is still swaying power, but also talk about Assad’s decision to run for president in the forthcoming presidential polls in 2014. It seems that as long as the two sides have not accepted to sit at the negotiation table, none of their differences would be solved.

The wound of crisis in Syria is becoming older and deeper while there seems to be no remedy for it. The international community does not have a convincing record in its treatment of this crisis. Geneva 2 conference, however, will be another opportunity for world powers to make a common decision to end the bloodletting in Syria. In the meantime, one must wait and see what record will these powers leave behind after the forthcoming conference is over.

Key Words: Geneva 2 Conference, Success, Foreign Powers, Civil War, Opposition, Assad, Khajouei

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