The “Geneva II” Syrian peace talks got off to a rocky start today:
In his opening remarks, opposition leader Ahmed Jarba accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes, bringing up new evidence of torture investigated by three war crimes prosecutors, and demanded the government delegation agree to the “Geneva I” transition of power. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem accused the West of “pouring arms” into Syria and backing terrorism. He addressed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Assad had lost legitimacy and that there could be no place for him in a transitional government, asserting, “No one, Mr. Kerry, has the right to withdraw legitimacy of the [Syrian] president other than the Syrians themselves.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appealed to the warring parties to seize the opportunity to resolve their conflict.
The conference began with more than 30 international governments, but is expected to be followed by mediated talks between government and opposition representatives at the end of the week. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose invite to the conference was withdrawn on Monday, said the peace talks were unlikely to succeed due to the lack of influential players at the meeting.
Given the fragmentation of the opposition, William Mccants and Jomana Qaddour are not optimistic:
After almost three years of brutal warfare, the Syrian ‘opposition’ is an alphabet soup of internally warring and ideologically polarized political and military forces: the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC), the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic Front, and numerous other independent battalions. The Syria-based Islamic Front has dismissed the talks (ISIS rejects power-sharing even for a transitional period, and thus rejects the conference in its entirety), and only the Turkey-based SOC has agreed to participate after a contentious vote that a third of its 119 members boycotted.
Even in the unlikely event that a political settlement emerges from the Geneva conference, there is no guarantee that the SOC can effectively negotiate and implement the agreement on behalf of the Syrian opposition in Syria due to the dwindling power of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Joshua Landis points out that Assad is negotiating from a position of strength:
The regime’s resilience is based, first and foremost, on the Syrian Army. Without its loyalty, Assad would likely have fallen as quickly as did Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But while many soldiers and officers did join the rebellion, most did so as individuals; few entire units defected and no entire divisions did. Structurally, the military held together, and it was able to replenish its ranks through intensive recruitment among the Alawite minority, where many are loyal to the regime and still more live in mortal fear of sectarian retribution at the hands of the Sunni-led armed rebellion. The same factors allowed the military to expand its capabilities through the paramilitary Popular Committees, often called shabiha. And it has also been able to enlist the support in critical battles of units of the Shia Hezbollah militia from neighboring Lebanon, whose leaders recognize that their own military fortunes depend on maintaining the re-supply lines that the Assad regime has long provided.
Stewart M. Patrick also doubts that the talks will succeed:
[T]he most likely diplomatic outcomes of this long awaited “peace conference” are likely to be pretty thin gruel. Even with the Iranian spoilers relegated to the sidelines, “Geneva II” is unlikely to see any major breakthroughs. At best, the summit will mark another phase in a protracted negotiating process that may continue for years, unless circumstances on the battlefield result in a clear victory for one side.
The Dish previewed the talks yesterday.