Friday, January 17, 2014


"The whole purpose of the conference is a negotiated agreement on political transition—the creation of a transitional governing body. Absent that, there is no reason to have this conference. The purpose is to implement Geneva I, which was signed on June 30, 2012. There is a range of ancillary issues that presumably could be discussed. From the point of view of Moscow, these ancillary issues—like a cease-fire, discussions about Syrian territorial integrity, sovereignty, and so forth—are the central issues. Moscow does not want the discussion to get very deeply into political transition, because it's that discussion and subject that puts its client somewhat at a disadvantage. In other words, it does not want to discuss the turnover of the Assad regime. That's correct. And it knows that its client does not want to discuss that subject. The Syrian information minister has made it very clear that the powers, the person, the prerogatives of President Bashar al-Assad will not be open for discussion at Geneva. Who will represent the opposition? There are so many opposition groups. Yes there are. According to the Friends of the Syrian People—particularly the core group of that collection of states, the so-called London Eleven—the opposition delegation will be led by the Syrian National Coalition, which at present is based in Istanbul. The delegation will also presumably contain people who are not members of that coalition. What about the various Islamist groups and jihadist groups fighting in Syria? There's a range of opinion within those groups as well. At the one end, you have this ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] organization and al-Qaeda affiliate, which is dead set against Geneva, against any coalition. ISIS is under some military pressure. The large town of Raqqa [in north central Syria] is the one sizeable area that ISIS took over, lock, stock, and barrel. It has been trying to impose their notion of governance on Raqqa, which is very primitive—the word "medieval" gives it too much credit. As a result, it's overreached, it's alienated a lot of people, so there is a sort of a combination of the more moderate Free Syrian Army elements and other Islamist elements that have banded together to try to push ISIS out of the picture. My strong suspicion is that the Syrian National Coalition is trying to take into consideration the views of those Islamist groups that are at least committed to a Syrian solution of some kind. ISIS has a sort of universal al-Qaeda "set up an emirate that transcends national boundaries" approach. And ISIS has made it clear that its first priority is not to fight the regime, but to establish its form of governance in areas that it can dominate both inside Syria and in Iraq. You wouldn't expect them to even want to come to Geneva. The ISIS people would have absolutely nothing to do with Geneva at all. Some of the other non-al-Qaeda Islamist leaders have also expressed some hostility to the idea of negotiations at Geneva. And some of them have condemned the National Coalition for even considering this possibility.".
Former American State Department official Frederick Hof interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, "Looking Toward Geneva II on Syria." The Council on Foreign Relations. 16 January 2014, in
The upcoming conference on the ongoing Syrian civil war is of course the ultimate example of an 'unmitigated farce'. Meaning that none of the interested parties who are fighting has any real interest in negotiating a nation-wide cease-fire and a real stoppage of the fighting that the poor people of Syria are having to contend with. The ruling Assad regime and its diplomatic backers: Moskva, Teheran and the Lebanese so-called 'Party of God' (Hezbollah) have no real interest in negotiating a true cease-fire. Nor does the armed militants and fanatics of the Islamists opposition want to negotiate a cease-fire. The former believe, correctly or not that it can, eventually defeat the rebels and the latter believes that the ongoing violence and chaos in Syria is the best means of spreading its peculiar form of ideological insanity. Indeed, as the usually anti-Assad Roula Khalaf has recently noted in the Financial Times, Western officials, including intelligence officials have been speaking to their opposite numbers in the Assad regime 1. The topic of discussion being of course the terrorists and fanatics of the Islamist opposition. As Khalaf notes, it is quite possible that these pour parlers are the beginning of a possible diplomatic rapprochement between Damascus and the Western Powers:
The conundrum for western governments is that they are forced to look at Syria increasingly through the prism of counter-terrorism. That has certainly been the priority of intelligence agencies – and a reason why, throughout 2013, they opposed military intervention. Their attitude has been that intervening can only raise the risk of a backlash against the west, even if governments involved would be fighting the same enemy as the al-Qaeda affiliates....But while rebels battle each other, and western governments grapple to reconcile counter-terrorism efforts with a broader political strategy, Mr Assad will be seeking to exploit the muddle. The regime’s psychology is such that any hint of reduced pressure is taken as a licence to pursue the merciless war. Its strategy in the peace talks will be to play for time, not plan for transition" 2
In short, at this juncture there is no reason to suppose that anything will come of the Geneva Conference other than the fact that the Assad regime will see it as another example of its return to international legitimacy. Given the character of the opposition, perhaps that is something to be expected if not necessarily to be supported at this point in time. Another result of the conference is the ever so greater marginalization of the 'official', Western-supported 'Syrian National Coalition'.
1. Roula Khalaf, "The costs of clandestine talks with Syria’s strongman." The Financial Times. 17 January 2014, in
2. Ibid.


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