Talks in trouble

January 21, 2014 - 7:11:03 am
The Syria peace conference scheduled to start in Geneva tomorrow has hit more obstacles. First is that an invitation extended to Iran by the UN Secretary-Secretary to attend the talks has created an uproar, triggering calls from the US for the withdrawal of the invitation unless Tehran fully and publicly endorses the formation of a transitional government for Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections. Not only Washington, several Arab countries are upset at the invite to Tehran because that is seen as not helping the process of dialogue, but complicating it. The second is a Guardian investigative report saying that Syrian officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the systematic killing of 11,000 detainees.

The UN-organised Geneva II peace conference is seen as an opportunity for all sides to come together and present their ideas, and beyond that, expectations were low. The Syrian crisis has become so complex and complicated that it would take many conferences even to see the living. The UN conference is a positive step, but has come too late. The opposition in Syria has now splintered into many groups. Without a united opposition, an agreement is nearly impossible. 

The peace conference is designed to negotiate a way out of the crisis by creating a transitional government. That’s a credible objective and one which has been demanded by the rebels and their backers in the Arab world. The UN must strive to achieve this objective. President Bashar Al Assad has already said that stepping down is not an option, which effectively means the opposition doesn’t have a partner for talks. The UN must pick the challenge dropped by Assad and force him to relinquish power. A UN-backed effort for democracy in Syria can help find a solution to the current crisis. And it should not back down from its stated objectives. The US, Arab countries and their European allies have long insisted that all participants in talks to end Syria’s three-year civil war commit to principles agreed at an earlier Swiss peace conference, which seek to establish a “transitional governing body” backed by all sides in the conflict.

Secondly, the latest findings about massacres committed by the regime forces should be taken as a basis to initiate action against Assad in the international courts. The UN and independent human rights groups have documented abuses by both Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels, but experts say the latest evidence is more detailed and on a far larger scale than anything else that has yet emerged from the 34-month crisis.