Assad, thanks to Russia and Iran, is too strong for a political settlement to be made right now in Syria


Aron Lund writes: Wrapped up on time, on December 10, the event [the Syrian opposition conference held in Riyadh] was met with widespread and unsurprising acclaim from the organizing governments and other nations sympathetic to the Syrian opposition. “We welcome the positive outcome of the gathering of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh,” wrote the U.S. State Department in a congratulatory message, hailing the “broad and representative group of 116 participants.”

At the meeting, a final statement was adopted that laid out the principles for the upcoming negotiations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Among them, according to a widely circulated draft, was “faith in the civilian nature of the Syrian state and its sovereignty over all of Syria’s territory, on the basis of administrative decentralization.” The document also expressed a commitment to “a democratic mechanism through a pluralistic system that represents all segments of the Syrian people, men and women, without discrimination or exclusion on a religious, sectarian, or ethnic basis,” organized by way of “free and fair elections.” The delegates promised to “work to preserve the institutions of the Syrian state, although it will be necessary to reorganize the structure and formation of its military and security institutions.” There would be a state monopoly on armed force. They condemned terrorism and stressed their refusal of “the presence of any foreign fighters.”

Regarding the upcoming talks, the delegates expressed their readiness to engage in a UN-supervised political process such as that described in the November 14 Vienna communiqué, which calls for Syrian-Syrian negotiations by January 2016 and a ceasefire by June of the same year. However, they asked the international community to “force the Syrian regime to perform measures ascertaining its good faith before the start of the negotiating process,” such as an end to death sentences and starvation tactics and a release of prisoners. The start of a ceasefire was linked to the creation of a transitional government, as sketched out in the Geneva Communiqué of 2012. Regarding the most crucial question of all, the conference stated that “Bashar al-Assad and his clique” have to leave power at the start of the transition — not at the end of it.

Last but not least, the delegates also agreed to create a High Negotiations Committee, tasked with electing and overseeing a team of 15 negotiators who will face the government delegation and decide the future of the country. And that, of course, was where it got tricky. [Continue reading…]

Kyle Orton writes: The opposition now has some diplomatic clout because it has a reasonably credible return address, but “as soon as negotiations in Vienna begin they will falter over the central issue: Iran and Russia will insist that Assad stays,” says Thomas Pierret, a lecturer on contemporary Islam at Edinburgh University and author of Religion and State in Syria: The Sunni Ulama from Coup to Revolution. “The United States is unable to change the Iranian and Russian demands,” Pierret adds, “so will face the choice of either accepting the failure of the negotiating process they’ve invested in, or pressuring the opposition — whom the U.S. can effect—into a ‘creative solution,’ which is to say allowing Assad to stay.”

The removal of Assad and his instruments of repression is key to ending the civil war and defeating ISIS, but unless Assad is military checkmated he and his Iranian and Russian supporters will have no reason to negotiate his departure. At the present time Assad is simply too secure and there is little sign of a Western appetite to make him less so. This means the Vienna process offers many more potential costs than benefits for the opposition. [Continue reading…]

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