Where are we on Syria?

Where are we on Syria?

There seems to be a hopelessness settling on Syria. To recap; at least 110,000 people have been killed, while more than 4 million are displaced inside the country and more than 2 million have become refugees in neighboring countries since the beginning of the civil war two and half years ago. President Abdullah Gül recently stressed, in his interview with the Guardian, the seriousness of the situation in Syria with the risk of it becoming “Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean”.

Again to recap; after the use chemical weapons in Ghouta on Aug. 21, which killed 1,400 people, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia agreed on a Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons which was immediately accepted by the Syrian authorities.
According to the agreement, which marked the unwillingness of the international community to take action even after the use of chemical weapons, Syria was to submit a full list of its chemical weapons and facilities within a week and allow inspectors to access them by November. They were then to be destroyed by the first half of 2014. On this, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported two weeks ago that Syria “has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons facilities, rendering them inoperable.” What is left is to destroy more than 1,000 metric tons of weapons stockpiles, some of which are located in areas where fierce fighting continues. While Syrian foreign minister requested that some weapons factories be spared, citing his country’s “commitment to disarmament”, various attempts to smuggle chemical agents into the country were recently discovered.

On the other hand, the second Geneva Talks was supposed to take place in early November. The conflicting parties are still pre-negotiating, while the U.S. and Russia are trying to convince them to come to the talks, where they are hoping to pressure them to agree on a sort of a deal. Yet, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and the Arab League Joint Envoy on Syria, postponed the planned talks to an uncertain date on Nov. 5. While the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), meeting in Istanbul on 10-11 Nov. has agreed to attend the proposed talks, their insistence on political transition without al-Assad leaves little room for negotiations while their various preconditions, such as allowing access of relief agencies to besieged areas and releasing all detainees, especially women and children, might be accepted by al-Assad, who wishes to utilize the unwillingness of international actors to take action by prolonging the process. In the meantime, the regime’s operational gains on the ground are bolstering its confidence. The Syrian Army recaptured the town of Sbeineh, an important strategic supply line for the opposition forces near Damascus, last week. This will help the al-Assad regime to have the upper hand in the talks, rather than a compromising position. 

There is more complication. Although the western powers are still, for the time being, mainly working with the SNC, many opposition groups have already declared they do not recognize it as the authority of the opposition groups and rejected to participate in the Geneva Talks. Such moves pave the way for further polarization within the opposition, which is already bolstered by some external actors, such as Saudi Arabia, the backing of groups associated with al-Qaeda. Western sources also blame Turkey for supporting al-Nusra Front, an al-Qadea associate, while there are indications that Turkey has recently started a tricky turn in its policies.

We still don’t have clear sight towards a peaceful solution; and unless a compromise is found between multiplying actors and their varying interests, the future of Syria will remain in tethers for the time being.