Sunday, February 16, 2014

Syria put in crossroads as Geneva talks deadlocked

As the second round of talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the exiled opposition has scored no progress, hopes for an immediate political breakthrough to Syria's three-year-old conflict have dimmed, leaving Syria stuck in the loop of an ongoing military showdown and probably more international pressures, analysts said.

The second round of the Geneva II conference ended on Saturday without tangible results, and a third round was reportedly agreed upon but its date is still unannounced.

The second round of talks ended as the first one: no results that could bode well for the political process in Syria. The Syrian government wanted to prioritize countering the rampant terrorism in Syria during the talks, while the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition umbrella in exile, seemed eager for a transitional governing body.

Countering terrorism and the establishment of a transitional government are part of a communique adopted during the first conference in Geneva in 2012. Yet, the order of the items seemed the problematic issue.

The government's delegation said countering terrorism must be thoroughly discussed and should result in some agreements to stem the growing violence in Syria before moving forward to the transitional government's discussion, while the SNC want countering terrorism to ensue the establishment of a transitional government.

Areeb Rantawi, an expert in political studies, said in his latest article that "the problem is that the government delegation wants to start with the terrorism and violence file, without any pledges of any kind, regarding the transitional governing body or the next step of how to stop the violence, whereas the opposition party has no concern out of the frame of transitional governing body as if it was rushing to take out the reins of power and the keys of Damascus."

He said the opposition's high demands are confusing, scoffing: "as if the coalition's legions are at the gates of the presidential palace in Damascus or as if the Western support gives the coalition a political or field superiority."

Rantawi said the SNC's betting on the West is likely to fail, saying their attitude "hasn't been witnessed in the history of negotiations."

He said while the government's delegation was right about demanding to give the priority to halting violence and terrorism and protecting the borders against the foreign threats, it wasn't right for the delegation to limit its quest to discussing the security file without taking a further step to draw the features of the political solution.

With the failure of the second round of talks, the situation on ground is more or less at a standstill, he said, demanding a broader representation of all opposition parties in the third round, inviting Iran to take part in the talks, embarking on negotiations in different topics simultaneously to come up with a full package of solutions that would start with the humanitarian crisis in Syria to counter terrorism.

Yet, despite the dimming hopes, Syria's official said the Geneva II conference hasn't failed yet.

Syria's Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said that talks about the failure of the Geneva talks are incorrect and exaggerated, adding that the UN Envoy to Syria Lakkhdar Brahmi and senior Syrian negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said that work along the political track will continue and that there will be follow- ups to the second round.

Muin Amatori, a political analyst, agreed with al-Zoubi that the internationally-backed peace conference hasn't failed, saying the engagement of the Syrian government and the opposition in the dialogue is a positive point.

Speaking to Xinhua, Amatori called for expanding the representation of the opposition forces in Syria in the conference as the coalition doesn't represent all of the opposition forces.

He said that the conference will have several rounds "and eventually a suitable formula for a solution will be agreed upon especially that the international community encourages the political process."

Yet, the current situation on ground will still the same amid reports of possible escalation in Western pressure against Damascus until a political breakthrough has been achieved.

The Syrian authorities said they will keep fighting terrorism and at the same time keeping their efforts to establish reconciliations.

Over the past three days, the military has massed up forces in the surroundings of the central town of Yabroud, one of the most crucial towns in central Syria, whose recapture by the military would deprive the rebels of their last key strongholds in the Homs province on the borders with Lebanon.

The operation is the latest in a series of other military successful offensives, in which the Syrian troops have regained the upper hand against the various rebel factions, including those who are linked to al-Qaida.

Beside their operations, the Syrian authorities have also managed to establish reconciliation with a number of rebel groups in the countryside of the capital Damascus to facilitate the return of thousands of displaced people to their homes.

Meanwhile, and as the Geneva negotiating process hasn't delivered yet, the Western powers, mainly the U.S., are expected to ramp up pressure against the Damascus administration.

President Barack Obama revealed on Friday he was considering new ways to pressure the Syrian government, saying: "There will be some intermediate steps that we can take to exercise more pressure to the Assad government and we are going to continue to work with all the parties concerned to try to move forward on a diplomatic solution."

Obama did not disclose what steps he has under consideration, but local analysts said the U.S. will resume supporting the rebels with weapons and logistical support.

Analysts also expected the U.S. to politicize and make use of the humanitarian file of Syria, especially when Moscow rejected a recent Western-backed UN draft resolution about humanitarian situation in Syria, considering it as basis for military action.

Russia announced it would veto the text - drafted by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan - because it contains "one-sided accusations " against government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said the draft resolution's "whole purpose and aim is to create grounds for future military action against the Syrian government if some demands it includes are not met."