Thursday 16 May 2013

World diplomacy is not on Assad’s wavelength

The internationally recognized representative of the Syrian people is staying away from next week’s meeting in Jordan of the 11-nation core group of the “Friends of the Syrian people.”
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday the opposition would not be attending the planned meeting “to coordinate positions in line with the recent U.S.-Russian agreement to revive the political path to tackle the (Syria) crisis.”
Washington and Moscow have proposed a peace conference between the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition in the coming weeks to find a political solution to the country’s civil war.
The core group of the “Friends of the Syrian people” includes Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the U.S.
Senior diplomats from France, the U.S., the UK, Russia and China are also planning to meet in Paris to discuss the U.S.-Russian initiative.
Expressing grave concern at the continuing escalation of violence in Syria, the UN General Assembly adopted overnight a resolution reiterating its call for rapid progress on a political transition, “which represents the best opportunity to resolve the situation […] peacefully.”
Adopted by a vote of 107 in favor to 12 against (counting Syria, Russia and China), with 59 abstentions (including Algeria, Lebanon and Sudan), the General Assembly resolution also welcomed the establishment last year of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces “as effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition.”
The State Department’s Patrick Ventrell had no explanation at yesterday’s press briefing as to why the National Coalition was staying away from the meeting in Jordan.
Q.: Patrick, Jordan has announced today that the Syrian opposition will not attend the contact group meeting that will be held next week in Jordan. Do you know why?
VENTRELL: I don’t. I’d refer you to Jordan for more details on their conference. That’s something that the Secretary looks forward to attending. But I don’t have any details on the final participation in that one way or another.
Q.: But it would be the first time that the opposition doesn’t attend such a meeting.
VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen that before coming down, so I’m not aware of that information. But we’re appreciative of the Jordanians for willing to organize the meeting.
Editorially, Lebanese political analyst Abdelwahhab Badrakhan, writing in Arabic today for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, has this eye-opener on the diplomatic jockeying ahead of the peace conference proposed by the United States and Russia:
The Americans and Russians have agreed not to disagree. Despite their different perceptions and objectives, they are determined not to disagree on either Syria or nuclear Iran.
At the same time, disagreements over Russia’s aspirations in Georgia or the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe remain possible and tangible.
Regarding Syria, Moscow was allowed to sell advanced weapons to the regime to keep killing its people with no questions asked. Moscow also won – in advance – recognition of its interests in Syria and, by extension, in Lebanon plus the chance of making a comeback to Egypt via the budding Egypt-Iran partnership.
By contrast, the U.S., which won nothing in return, never sat idly on the sidelines of a crisis that matters so much to her this long.
Washington offered zero options to address the crisis, waiting instead for Benjamin Netanyahu to knock at the Kremlin door to warn against the delivery of S-300 missiles that could alter Israel’s military balance with Syria-Iran-Hezbollah.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Moscow May 5, seeking a new “understanding” on Syria – “understanding” because the “agreement” has to wait for the summit meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin a month from now.
Britain’s David Cameron followed Kerry to Russia, where he undertook to sponsor a multinational summit to consecrate any final U.S.-Russian agreement.
In other words, efforts are in full swing to crystallize an international consensus that would pave the way for a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VI.
The resolution would tell the regime and the opposition to sit and negotiate on a “transitional government with full powers,” which in hindsight should have come hot on the heels of the June 2012 Geneva Declaration.
After the Geneva Declaration, Moscow kept insisting the document was the only way forward in Syria. But it never said it could secure Assad’s commitment to transfer his full executive powers to a transitional government. It kept arguing opposition and Friends of Syria calls on Assad to step down made it impossible to convince him to sign a power transfer order.
Moscow said lately it already got the names of regime negotiators, who will be led by the prime minister, but that the opposition remains disjointed and unrepresentative of all the regime’s civilian and military adversaries.
The inbred defect in Moscow’s position is its portrayal of a people’s revolution as “dissent” and the regime’s actions as “natural.”
The U.S. and Russia are now at the state where they decided, “Let us forget about Assad’s resignation and go straight to a transitional government with full powers.”
But the problem is: How would the proposed government get the full powers that Assad does not wish to hand over?
The answer would have to be a binding UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII spelling out a timeframe and likely retributions.
Moscow has not even started considering such a course, having won enough rope from the U.S. to bury the pre-condition of Assad resigning.
Despite all the diplomatic jockeying and Washington continuing to bend over backwards, the obstacles to a Syria transition are formidable.
Russia for instance is staunchly standing by one of the regime’s own pre-conditions, which is not to touch the army or security services. This means keeping the killing machine off the negotiating table.
So how would a “transitional government with full powers” govern without the basic military and security tools of government?
For now, the “full powers” remain firmly in Assad’s hand. They need to be wrested from him. He has not been fighting to the death to surrender them readily. He will bargain over them. And he will not facilitate any solution if terms are not discussed and agreed with him.
Moreover, the relative advances of his forces on the ground lately, and seeing the international community whipping itself into a state of diplomatic frenzy to corner him, might prompt Assad to activate his spoiler role.
That would be in the traditional style of car bombings in Turkey’s border town of Reyhanli, raids on Israel by Palestinian proxies and export of the chaos and fighting to neighboring countries.