Qatar reactivates role in Syria amid hopes of regional influence
DOHA--Qatar is stepping up its diplomatic moves in the region, playing its cards in Iran, Lebanon and Syria with the hope of regaining influence after its presence declined in recent years due to overlapping factors, including its preoccupation with dealing with the toll of the Gulf boycott and the absence of entente with the previous US administration.
Arab political circles say that Doha is now trying to exploit the international and regional climate with the presence of a new American administration to reactivate its diplomacy. In this regard, observers say that the atmosphere seems quite suitable for Doha to score gains and impose its influence again in regional hot spots.
Qatar initially sought to present itself as a mediator in the nuclear file, betting on its good relations with Iran and the international community. Later, it became clear that Doha’s limited political and diplomatic weight would not play in its favour and allow it to play a part in this file. The same applied for Doha’s attempt to mediate to resolve the crisis in Lebanon, where Qatari efforts were weakened by the multiplicity of foreign players in the country.
The Qataris’ failure to find a role for themselves in the Iranian file and the Lebanese arena apparently led them to try to regain their role in Syria. From the outbreak of the Syrian conflict until 2015, Doha played a key role in the country by providing huge financial, political and media support for opposition groups, especially armed ones, before backpedalling when the situation changed with Russian intervention.
According to observers, there are many indications Doha is trying to regain a role in Syria by supporting the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, which was formed in 2012 and currently leads the country’s political opposition.
On Monday, Doha received the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Nasr al-Hariri, for a two-day visit, during which he met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and the Turkish ambassador, Mustafa Kokso.
Hariri’s repeated visits to Doha indicate efforts to revive the coalition’s role, which declined significantly following the armed opposition’s military losses. The coalition’s involvement in side conflicts has exacerbated its relations with a number of countries, with Saudi Arabia recently closing the offices of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee. Losses on the ground have also affected the coalition’s negotiating position.
Qatar’s hope of regaining its presence is mainly related to the presence of a new American administration that seems intent on increasing its pressure on the regime of President Bashar Assad and filling the vacuum left by the former administration of Donald Trump, which Russia exploited to control the political process through the Astana talks.
Qatar also seems motivated by the weakness and internal collapse of the Syrian regime, which is currently struggling with two stifling financial and economic crises that risk triggering violent unrest inside its areas of control.
Hariri said in a news conference from Doha that time is now in favour of the Syrian opposition, noting that the deteriorating economic and security conditions in regime-controlled areas do not play in Assad’s favour.
He indicated that the Syrian opposition is ready for a political solution and has alternative options to pressure Assad and force him to submit to the solution in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, especially Resolution 2254.
He considered that the Astana platform is not representative of the coalition, which only accepts a political process based on the Geneva talks and held under the auspices of the United Nations in order to achieve a real political transition, according to which a transitional governing body is formed, a new constitution for the country is drawn up and elections are supported by the United Nations.
“We are trying to work with the new US administration on a set of political basics provided that Washington’s strategy is specific, clear and consistent with the serious risks in the region in a way that ensures sustainable security and stability in Syria,” Hariri said.
Hariri was speaking from the headquarters of the Syrian Embassy in Doha, which the opposition has controlled since 2013, in a message that was not without connotations.
Regarding his talks in Doha, Hariri said, “The visit was an opportunity to meet a number of Qatari officials headed by Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, within the context of strengthening the Arab role in the Syrian file.”
He praised “the important role that Qatar plays in supporting the Syrian people, since the start of their revolution and until now, on various political and media levels.”
On Monday, the Qatari foreign minister said during his meeting with Hariri that his country “supports international efforts aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis on the basis of the relevant Security Council resolutions, especially Resolution No. 2254.”
In December 2015, the UN Security Council issued Resolution No. 2254, approving a plan for a ceasefire in Syria, holding talks between the regime and the opposition, forming a unity government, and holding elections in the war-hit Arab country.
Within the political process, the United Nations formed a Constitutional Committee to draft a new constitution with members of the regime, the opposition and civil society organisations (50 members each). The committee held five rounds of talks that have not produced any results so far.