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MOSCOW, January 20. /ITAR-TASS/. Efforts by two major diplomacies, Russia and the U.S., helped break the deadlock just two days ahead of the Geneva-2 conference on a peace settlement of the Syrian crisis scheduled for January 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux. The Syrian opposition is inclined to attend the meeting.
Previously, efforts by Russia, the U.S. and the UN to schedule the peace forum for November 23, 2013 proved futile, as the Syrian opposition was firm in its refusal to partake.
Last Sunday, the Syrian opposition’s largest group, National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) agreed to send a delegation to Geneva-2. On a strict condition, though. The head of the coalition, Ahmad Jarba, said his group saw the ousting of Syrian President Bashar Assad as the sole purpose of the conference. Reports say the so-called external, Turkey-based, opposition the NCSROF represents is supported by a number of leaders of the armed internal opposition fighting against the governmental forces.
Yet Assad has no plans to resign. He even considers running in the presidential election due in 2014. This is what he told the Russian delegation in Damascus on January 18: “This issue is not under discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections.” He added that as the opposition claimed it had established control of 70% of the Syrian territory, so it might as well take part in the election with reliance on support from those 70%.
The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the opposition’s decision to partake in Geneva-2 was “a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Bashar Assad regime and a civil war without end.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the decision and expressed hope the opposition would promptly form a credible delegation.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry confined itself to the announcement on its official site that Geneva-2 would be visited by the Syrian opposition’s delegation of fifteen.
A delegation from Iran is also expected to participate, but Tehran’s condition is that the U.S drop its precondition Iran should wind up its uranium enrichment program.
In turn, the U.S. Department of State demanded Iran’s invitation to Montreux is recalled, if Tehran rejected the communiqué of the first Geneva conference.
Luckily, on Monday, January 20, an encouraging signal came from Tehran: Iran was suspending uranium enrichment to 20%, thus enacting the interim agreement between Iran and the sextet of negotiators (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on the Iranian nuclear issue.
A tangled series of ultimatums and concessions has preceded Geneva-2. Will the participants be able to reach a consensus and cease the civil war in Syria that has killed 130,000 and made more than 2 million others leave their homes?
Experienced Russian diplomat, former first deputy foreign minister, Anatoly Adamishin, described Russia’s and the U.S. wishes to end the war as “an undoubtedly positive factor”.
“Russia’s and the U.S. joint efforts to overcome the Syrian crisis supported by the UN should go through several stages. Painful efforts to convene Geneva-2 are one of these stages. But who said that the art of diplomacy was an easy job?” he said in an interview to Itar-Tass.
The expert described the crisis as “a layer cake.”
“The country is struggling through not only a civil war but also a religious war between Sunni and Shia, different sides supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia. These countries as well as the U.S. and Israel care not only for a settlement but for their own interests, a wider range of issues, too. In particular, they wish to see an end to the Iranian nuclear program,” Adamishin said.
The expert believes that if Geneva-2 produces no consensus, Russia and the U.S. will be able to use the lever of forcing the conflicting parties to cease fire by suspending aid and introducing economic sanctions.
“Otherwise, the conflict will only escalate,” Adamishin says.
“The U.S. is now reaping the fruit of imprudence of the previous administrations led by George Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton. Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan not only ‘blew up’ the Middle East but also soured relations between Moscow and Washington. So Russian people are now unfriendly towards the U.S.,” the expert added.
Even so, Adamishin believes, in their joint efforts to convene the peace conference Russia and the U.S. are moving in a direction that is the only right one.
“It is better to negotiate than to be at war indefinitely,” head of the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Russian Academy of Sciences), Aleksey Arbatov, told Itar-Tass.
He believes Russia and the U.S. will clinch a deal for Iran to partake in the conference, since “everybody is keen to see Iran cease its nuclear program — the U.S., Europe and Israel as well.”
“Offending Iran would be illogical in this situation,” Arbatov said.
The expert believes the opposition will not succeed in its efforts to have Bashar Assad ousted in Montreux: “The so-called Syrian opposition is a chorus of many voices incapable of articulating a common view.”
In Arbatov’s opinion, the most important thing for all the interested parties at this stage is to gather on January 22 and agree to prepare for a conference Geneva-3.
“The West is curtailing military support for the Syrian opposition. Now the only outstanding issue is humanitarian aid to the population. The U.S. is now saying that Syria should retain its state institutions, the government and the army. The West fears some monstrous radicals may rise to power in Syria,” the honorary chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Sergei Karaganov, told Itar-Tass.
“In its striving to settle the Syrian crisis the West is gradually drifting closer to Russia’s stance,” Karaganov said.
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