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Dr Musa A Keilani: Dialogue in the doldrums
June 12, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

A  US and Russian-backed initiative to end the crisis in Syria was supposed to have been launched this month and was expected to be a big game-changer. Now it seems that the proposed conference in Geneva will not take place in June.

According to UN special envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi, the delay is due to the failure of the various players involved to agree on the specifics when the conference would take place and, more importantly, who should be invited to attend.

Reports indicate that the United States is pushing for Saudi Arabia’s inclusion, while Russia says Iran should also take part. Washington has ruled out allowing Iran to take part under any circumstances.

According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Iran’s participation “is a matter of principle because the composition of the conference should be balanced.”

Bogdanov acknowledged Washington’s opposition to inviting Iran to the peace conference, but insisted that Iran’s absence from a similar conference in Geneva talks last summer “was a mistake and it should not be repeated.”

“The point is that two Syrian sides should negotiate and come to agreement and they should know that they are not abandoned, that there are sympathy and support from forces on both sides,” he added.

Well, one fails to see how anyone could be sympathising with a regime that has proved itself to be the most ruthless in recent times. Its forces have been mowing down people left and right as its genocide is going out of fashion. More than 90,000 people have been killed in the conflict and it looks likely that many more tens of thousands will die before any realistic progress is made towards ending the bloodshed.

Everyone is aware of the most pressing need to find an end to the crisis. And yet the effort is being dragged along while hundreds more are getting killed and wounded on a daily basis.

Conventional thinking dictates that it should not take more than a week to convene a conference. True that some senior diplomats might not be able to attend, but that is something that could be worked out. But that is not the way it works now. There are high-profile political and economic issues involved in the “search for peace” in Syria that are not always known to us as is the case with all international problems.

The Syrian opposition has repeatedly ruled out taking part in the proposed conference at all, but the US is trying to spin this as the rebels just need more time to make up their mind. Many of the groups opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad insist that no talks should take place until Assad steps down.

The word “quitting” is not in the Syrian regime’s dictionary. And therefore, one fails to see the point in convening a conference at all.

But then the international community cannot simply give up diplomatic efforts.

Russian and Chinese objections have crippled the UN Security Council in the Syrian context.

It is in everyone’s mind that without external military intervention there is no easy solution to the crisis. But such intervention will trigger a massive regional armed conflict involving Lebanon, Iraq and others.

In the meantime, the world is closely watching changes in the administration of US President Barack Obama. Here is an observation by a noted American analyst, Jason Ditz, over the nomination of Susan Rice as national security adviser:

The ouster of Tom Donilon from the position of national security adviser (NSA) in favour of Susan Rice portends a much more hawkish voice in the powerful advisory position, and introduces another hawk, Samantha Power, to a position of influence.

The NSA position, under Obama, has been arguably more important than the secretary of state position, and Rice’s move into it makes her the nation’s top foreign policy planner, and one with a keen eye on military intervention in Syria.

Donilon, by contrast, was focused on the “Asian pivot” and getting the US relatively less militarily involved globally, while staying out of the policy limelight. Rice, by contrast, is likely to be more public and more bellicose due to her well-known strong belief in the US military as a global force for change.

Taking Rice’s place at the UN is Samantha Power, a long-time adviser for Obama who is seen as having driven US involvement in the attack on Libya and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato)-imposed regime change, arguing that the US had a moral obligation” to do so. She is seen to be bringing that same position to the Syria situation.

Let us go back to the proposed Geneva conference.

Last week’s fall of the central town of Al Qusair to the forces of the Syrian regime was detrimental to the rebels’ cause. The regime is now in a better position if the proposed conference takes place.

By the same token, even if the US pressures them, the rebels would not want to go to Geneva since they are at a disadvantageous position.

Up goes in flames the hope that the US-Russian initiative will be a game-changer in the Syrian conflict. It is with such a delicate, sensitive pernicious development that Jordanians welcomed the arrival in Aqaba last week of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force carried aboard the USS Kearsage amphibious assault ship.


The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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