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A futile exercise

Jan 20,2014 - Last updated at Jan 20,2014

Under intense American pressure, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces decided to participate in tomorrow’s Geneva talks in a bid to end the deadly conflict in Syria.

The American pressure on the opposition to attend the conference is a kind of a recognition that Bashar Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the objective of having a caretaker or transitional government in Syria is, to say the lease, far-fetched.

To be sure, it is just inconceivable that the Syrian president will send a delegation to negotiate his removal from power!

Assad’s calculations have shifted over the last months.

Backed by Russia, he has been trying to reposition himself within the anti-terror camp. Ironically, he and the American administration agree that a considerable part of the opposition is a bunch of terrorists that should be defeated.

For him, the priority is to liberate Syria from radicals affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Assad’s and his regional allies’ running argument is that the struggle is against terrorists rather than the people.

Of course, Assad uses every trick in the book to buy time hoping to crush the revolution once and for all. He knows that radicals would not have been in Syrian right now had his regime responded positively to the Syrians’ peaceful demands for freedom. But he is waging a misleading campaign to force his opponents within and without Syria to rethink their interests.

Assad knows very well that Geneva I conference, held in June 2012, stipulates setting up a transitional government. And yet, he accepts to participate in Geneva II that is supposed to negotiate his removal.

Yet, the situation is more complicated. He pins hopes on the fragmentation of his opponents. Assad hopes that soon the international community will discover that the segment of the opposition that agreed to participate in the Geneva talks has no influence on the ground. For this reason, Assad and his allies in Geneva will put the issue of fight against terrorism at the forefront, a move that is poised to play off the opposition groups against each other.

Early on, US Secretary of State John Kerry had argued that the conditions on the ground should be changed to force Assad to accept the idea of a transitional government.

Kerry’s logic could not have been more accurate.  But after Kerry clarified the rules of the game, he failed to back up his ideas with substantive measures.

Unlike the American side, which never provided the opposition with effective weapons lest they should fall in the hands of the radicals, the Russians stepped up shipments of arms. Additionally, Iran and its Hizbollah ally have their boots on the ground, fighting shoulder to shoulder with Assad forces. The outcome is the opposite of what Kerry had hoped for.

Let us not forget that the purpose of this long awaited conference is to negotiate an agreement whereby the warring parties agree on a transitional government. This is the practical meaning of implementing Geneva I.

The question, in this case, is why would Assad and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran accept to discuss a transitional government with a weak and fragmented opposition with no influence in Syria?

Worse, the two regional powers that have been locked in a proxy war in Syria are unlikely to cooperate to stabilise the situation on the ground.

While protagonists to the conflict may not be able to agree on what to implement, the conference will only drag the conflict for some time to come.

Meanwhile, there is no hope that the suffering of the people would be lessened, let alone stop. Therefore, I believe that the dialogue is only buying time and it will be a futile exercise.

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