3 novembre 2013 7 03 /11 /novembre /2013 00:55
29-10-2013 06:06PM ET
The unpaved road to Geneva II
Arab foreign ministers are meeting on Sunday to pave the way to the still-uncertain Geneva II Conference on Syria, reports Dina Ezzat
Ahead of an international meeting on the crisis in Syria that is scheduled to take place later this month in Geneva, the so-called Geneva II Conference, Arab foreign ministers will be holding an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss the potential way ahead on the developments in Syria, where demonstrations against the regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad have developed into an apparently interminable civil conflict.
Arab diplomats preparing for the meeting say that the key objective is to convince all the parties concerned from across the wide, and, indeed, conflict-ridden opposition, to take part in the Geneva meeting.
The eventual meeting is designed as a follow-up to the Geneva I Conference that took place over a year ago and adopted a roadmap for the end of the close-to three-year Syrian crisis in the form of a face-saving and gradual transition of power from the hands of Al-Assad, though not necessarily his entire regime, to a fully-fledged transitional government.
The objective now is for the Geneva II Conference to move a small step further, “if at all possible,” according to a leading Arab negotiator, and to agree that the end of Al-Assad’s term in office in 2014 will not be followed by his nomination for another term. This would allow for the transition to start in Syria as a result of joint efforts made by the opposition and the state apparatus.
“We are not talking about a text that would announce this in black and white, but we are talking about an agreement that would be reflected in carefully worded language. The objective is to move on and not to get Al-Assad to be more intransigent and more vindictive than he already is,” the same negotiator said.
Several of the many Syrian opposition factions have been sceptical about joining the Geneva II Conference, saying that almost three years after the conflict started it is not acceptable for them to sit down with a representative of the Al-Assad regime or to allow any arrangements that would lead to either Al-Assad or any members of his regime having a say in shaping the future of Syria.
“The meeting on Sunday will convene after the concerned Arab countries have conducted contacts with the many Syrian opposition groups that they have contacts with, supposedly with the objective of convincing all of them to take part and then deciding on their negotiating positions when they get there,” said one Arab League source.
According to informed Arab diplomatic sources, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already secured the consent of the Syrian opposition that they are in contact with to be present in Geneva later this month. Qatar is still to report the position of its more hardline Syrian opposition contacts to the Sunday Arab League meeting.
The Arab League source said that he expected the Qataris “to convince the groups they talk with to take part in Geneva II, especially since the Americans are supportive of the meeting.”
The Geneva II Conference was promised twice earlier this year, but it has thus far failed to materialise due to a continuing rift between Washington and Moscow on the fate of Al-Assad and his regime in any possible compromise.
Moscow, according to one Middle East-based Russian diplomat, would not object to encouraging Al-Assad to accept an arrangement under which he would decline to run for a new presidential term in return for a safe conclusion for him and his family and for the inclusion of his Alawite clan and members of the state bureaucracy in the future ruling system.
Anything short of this, the diplomat said, would mean that the future of Syria would not be stable, and this would go against Russian interests and those of its regional allies, “of course including Iran.”
The UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had been willing to support a compromise along these lines, but he had not been helped, informed sources say, by Nabil Al-Arabi, the Arab League secretary-general, who is more sympathetic to the position of the more radical opposition groups, supported by Qatar, an influential Arab League player, who want Al-Assad out.
Not denying that there were “shades of different assessments” between Brahimi and Al-Arabi, the Arab League source denied that the secretary-general of the League was necessarily “taking the Qatari position.”
“This is not the case simply because there is no big difference really between the Qatari position on this matter and that of its otherwise arch-adversary, Saudi Arabia. Neither country wants to see Al-Assad remain in office in the future,” he said.
A joint Qatari-Saudi diplomatic effort, informed diplomatic sources say, with the help of both Turkey and France, aborted a recent fragile agreement between Washington and Moscow on brokering a deal that would allow for a future arrangement under which Al-Assad’s presence would be gradually phased out without the subsequent elimination of his followers’ share in power in the future.
On his way to Damascus for meetings with Al-Assad and his aides this week, Brahimi said that he could see a role for Al-Assad in shaping the future of Syria without his necessarily being at the helm. Such statements prompted the anger of factions within the Syrian opposition, who have openly conveyed their wish for Brahimi to be removed and insisted that any agreement that involves any role for Al-Assad is a non-starter.
“This agreement was the basis of the preparations for the Geneva II meeting, but it was eliminated from the table in a recent meeting held in October in London. If this is out, it is not clear what will lead the way to Geneva II, or if it will once again be delayed,” said one regional diplomat.
According to the Arab League, whether Geneva II convenes later in November or not there has to be a cohesive Syrian opposition stance that would allow for a more structured negotiations process that could take place either under the umbrella of Geneva II or under some other umbrella.
“We are not expecting, nor is anybody for that matter, that Geneva II, if and when it convenes, will open the door for a fast agreement. If it convenes, Geneva II will just be the start of a long and probably very detailed political process that might or might not yield an agreement,” said one senior Arab diplomat.
He added that “at the end of the day for an agreement to take place in Syria, Russia would have to agree with the US, and for this to happen the regional parties who are allied with both Washington and Moscow would have to be satisfied. So it is really quite complicated.”