Political solution seems out of reach in Syria
LONDON - As the situation in Syria continues to morph into an international quagmire, efforts by countries such Saudi Arabia and the United States to find a viable political solution to the lengthy war have been fruitless thus far.
Amid accusations of ineffectiveness from those opposed to the Assad regime, the UN General Assembly recently endorsed a Saudi-authored resolution calling for the condemnation of Iran because of its involvement in Syria.
The Saudi resolution, which was co-sponsored by a number of other Arab countries as well as the United States and Western powers, carried a veiled condemnation of Russia’s involvement in Syria, mainly its military attacks on the moderate Syrian opposition, which it stated benefited terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS).
However, the General Assembly’s endorsement is unlikely to change anything on the ground, experts said.
“It’s symbolic. It’s widely known that if you take a look at the history of the conflict the UN General Assembly has broadly been in support of the anti-Assad camp within the Syrian civil war,” said Christopher Phillips, a Syria expert at Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank in London.
According to Phillips, it is no surprise that the resolution was endorsed by the General Assembly, but he pointed out that numerous resolutions of a similar ilk have been passed before without any effect on UN policy.
“The UN is structured so that the Security Council is the body that holds any real authority. Russia and indeed China have made sure in the past that any serious condemnation of the broader pro-Assad camp has never gone through,” Phillips said.
The push for a transitional political solution has been championed by Russia, a staunch supporter of the Assad regime. However, the prospects of it working are slim, as the Syrian opposition insists that Assad must go while the dictator has rubbished the notion of any political process as long as Syria is occupied by “terrorists”, a term the regime uses to label all of its opponents, whether they are peaceful activists or fighters on the ground, moderate or extreme.
“This timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria,” Assad said in an interview with Italy’s Rai television.
In comments to French magazine Valeurs Actuelles, the Iran-backed president went on to dismiss the idea of UN observers monitoring elections, saying the organisation had “lost all credibility”.
In regards to the Syrian opposition, an opinion piece in the magazine collectively written by its main leaders reaffirmed their stance that Assad should have no political future in Syria and that his exit is required to defeat ISIS.
“The only way to effectively take on ISIS is to create a ground force capable of fighting terror and stabilising the country. With proper support, such a force could eradicate the ISIS terror nest in Raqqa, but this will only happen when we formulate a political plan that ensures a transition away from Syria’s current leadership and state clearly that the end game is Assad’s exit from power,” the article said.
This comes at a time Saudi Arabia and the United States are trying to unify the ranks of the Syrian opposition. US Secretary of State John Kerry, while on a trip to the UAE, met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al- Nahyan and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in an effort to bring Syrian opposition groups together at a conference in Riyadh in December. The Security Council met in Vienna in November and agreed to begin formal talks between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime by January 1st. Whether the talks yield any result highly depends on the main players in the dispute.
“The question here is, how much leverage does Iran and Russia have over the Assad regime to make it negotiate and if it doesn’t negotiate is it in a position to engineer some sort of internal transition within the leadership of Syria?” Phillips said.
With regards to a political transition, Phillips underscored the importance of knowing Russia’s motivations.
“Who is it being duplicitous to?” he asked “Is it the West, where they are saying what the West wants to hear in order to get a deal and help Assad remain beyond the transitional period? Or is it being duplicitous with the Assad regime, saying ‘Look you’re the problem we need to stand by you at the moment to make sure we don’t look weak but once we got what we want then we’ll find someone that can be a little more malleable than you are’?
“I suspect that’s what they are thinking.”