The starts of the Geneva III peace talks were delayed twice last week owing to objections from the main Syria opposition represented by the Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC). The HNC finally bowed to pressure from the United States and the United Nations and agreed to attend the talks after “receiving assurances”, even then they insisted they are going “not to negotiate” with the government just yet, but lay the grounds for their demands to the UN.
What makes the situation more complicated is the disparate nature of the opposition, some 15 opposition grounds are represented in the Saud Arabian backed HNC alone, this discounts various other groups deemed too close to the regime or too hardline to play any role in the future of Syria.
The exclusion of no party is more ironic than that of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They have been pooled with other terrorists not acceptable to join talks such as al-Qaeda afflicted al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS).
Russia has long insisted on the inclusion of the PYD and other opposition parties. Whilst the Syrian Democratic Council that includes the PYD is invited, the omission of the PYD leaders is a grave mistake.
The PYD and its armed wing, People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been supported by US air power as well as Russian forces. A political settlement is unimaginable without the Kurds who control large parties of Syria with autonomous administration and a strong militia force that is spearheading the battle against IS.
Whilst the UN has not set loft goals at the start of the talks and expects the prospect of any agreement to be protracted, it remains to be seen whether it is the opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s regime that will decide the outcome or if it will be US and Russia.
Both the US and Russia have a clear role to play both now and in striking any agreement. There is no doubt that many aspects of the future Syrian framework have already been discussed and agreed between both camps such as the composition of the transitional government and state forces.
The US rhetoric over Assad may be the same but Washington has taken an increasing backseat role allowing Russia to become the dominant actor.
As US tip-toed around military action in Syria, Russia showed little hesitation as they salvaged Assad from the brink with military intervention.
If the notion that negotiation is determined by the state of the battleground, then Assad has the upper hand as he quickly recovers ground. Both Russia and Iran have shown that they will not allow Assad to fall.
The US has long abandoned the view that Assad must go before any peace talks. Ironically, it is now the US that is insisting that it is “important for these talks to continue without preconditions”.
In fact, with streams of millions of refugees streaming across Europe and IS problem becoming a more dominant issue by the day, Washington and its allies are reluctant for any wholesale changes of regime apparatus that will only fuel more chaos and bloodshed.
Without major concessions from the regime and the opposition and the inclusion of the Syrian Kurds, Geneva III will end much in the same way as Geneva II.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc