The second round of talks on the situation in Syria with mediation of United Nations and Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to kick off on Monday, February 10, in Geneva, some 10 days after the first round of the Geneva-2 peace conference on Syria ended with no particular results.
The start of the current session as part of Geneva-2 is not perceived as success. The parties to the talks are expected to produce specific solutions designed to stop the Syrian conflict, which has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced millions since its start in 2011, according to UN statistics.
Geneva-2 is the name for a forum organized by Russia and the United States that seeks to negotiate a solution to the Syrian crisis. Geneva-2 opened on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland, and continued on January 23-31 in Geneva. Its first round ended with no particular progress. The parties to the Syrian conflict took a pause for consultations until today.
However, there are aspects where the hopes of Brahimi and some other external players were not justified. Despite calls to expand the Syrian opposition delegation with other groups, in particular, the National Coordination Committee, this never happened.
“The composition of the opposition delegation does not change,” a source in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) told Itar-Tass. “One or two new representatives will probably arrive, but the team that will be in the negotiating room will be the same.”
Like last time, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem leads the Syrian government delegation, and NCSROF head Ahmad Jarba leads the opposition delegation. During the first round of talks, they abstained from being present in the negotiating room, delegating their powers to their representatives.
Official Damascus was represented by Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, and the opposition - by NCSROF political bureau member Khadi al-Bakhra. An informed diplomatic source said there would be no changes.
The negotiating process will be assisted by experts from Geneva-2 initiator countries - Russia and the United States. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will arrive from Moscow to coordinate the process.
Brahimi, in turn, expressed confidence that Moscow and Washington would be more active in the peace efforts. He said he is in contact with both Russian and US diplomats.
American diplomats have contacts with Syrian opposition, and Russian diplomats have contacts with Bashar Assad’s government, and they all use their abilities to convince Syrians to stop the conflict, Brahimi said.
During the first round of talks, the parties to the Syrian conflict failed to announce any agreement. Nor did they agree on any of the issues that were being discussed. Although this was to some degree expected, the lack of result caused deep disappointment of the global public, especially against the background of a humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The first statements by Syrian delegations at the new talks will show whether the situation in the city of Homs, which a humanitarian convoy entered following long talks, will contribute to the dialogue or deteriorate the situation because the convoy came under fire thus violating the truce.
Informal conversations between journalists and the Syrian negotiating teams ahead of the new talks showed that the issue of Bashar Assad’s future still remains the main stumbling block. Representatives of the opposition refuse to even assume that he current head of state or some people from his entourage will remain at power, whereas official Damascus says the Syrian nation should decide on the issue.
The parties to the talks have not given up their attitude toward the Geneva Communique.
The Geneva Communique (or Geneva-1 Communique) was adopted on June 30, 2012 at a conference of an “action group” on Syria in Geneva. That conference is now commonly referred to as “Geneva-1.” Geneva-2 is a logical continuation of Geneva-1.
The Syrian government delegation is ready to discuss “any questions” but item after item. In essence, it means that humanitarian problems should be resolved and terrorism defeated first, and only then can talks be held on forming a transitional governing body the Geneva Communique mentions.
But the opposition reproaches the current authorities for “lack of knowledge of the situation” and insists that any issues can only be resolved through the establishment of a transitional government.
“Our interlocutors have no idea of what is happening in Syria,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem stressed last time. “And it can’t be otherwise if you live not in the country but in five-star hotels abroad.”
These words from Muallem were then heard in various interpretations by journalists. Reporters noticed then that the opposition delegation in Geneva was accommodated in the Intercontinental fashionable hotel, whereas the Syrian government delegation chose a more modest hotel, however, asking journalists not to name it.
Meanwhile, Swiss police have already intensified their duty. On Sunday, police officers had to conduct an explanatory conversation with some participants of the Syria Without Assad unauthorized rally. A group supporting the Syrian government is also expected to arrive in Geneva soon.
However, experts are yet rather skeptical about the chances to achieve a breakthrough in the month to come. Jordi Tejel from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva told Itar-Tass that the Geneva-2 peace conference may last too long.
“Don’t expect substantive results from the upcoming round,” he said. “The reason is that the Syrian opposition is still pushing for Bashar Assad to go, and the regime’s position is that he should stay in power.”
The expert said Geneva-2 would have a longer effect that would be seen at “secret talks in a different format.”
Some information on “different talks” has already been leaked to the press. The talk is about a regional format designed to complement the intra-Syrian talks held as part of the Geneva-2 conference. Diplomatic sources say the Americans have proposed including five participants: Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.
Moscow, sources say, proposed that Washington launch a regional negotiating format last year, but the US then did not deem the initiative was expedient. However, the United States is now pushing it after the first round.
It is not clear yet whether the talk is about a parallel conference with regional players taking part or a certain permanent communication channel with them. It is also unclear how much time the convocation of such meetings would take.
One thing is clear: the intra-Syrian talks are continuing, and Geneva will be in the focus of hundreds of video cameras in the next 7-10 days. The accredited reporters are not less enthusiastic then before. Representatives of the government and opposition pledged to say which new initiatives their teams came to Geneva with.
An international deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, mediated in September 2013, prevented a likely US-led military intervention in the Middle East country.
The process of disarmament in Syria was launched after hundreds of civilians died in a chemical attack made on a Damascus suburb in August 2013. The most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons are to be destroyed at sea by the end of March, and the rest by June 30, 2014.