A United Nations mediator announced Friday a Syrian government delegation and the Western-backed opposition will meet Saturday “in the same room.”
Joshua Landis, the author of the widely-read blog Syria Comment and the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says this week’s peace conference in Switzerland shows both sides understand there has to be a political solution.
“If they thought they could win militarily, they wouldn’t have gone to Geneva,” Landis says. “The opposition still hopes the United States is going to get rid of Assad for them at some level, and the Syrians still hope that Russia is going to come through, and they’re going to be able to conquer the country.”
Secretary of State John Kerry opened the talks by saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down, despite the Syrian delegation saying Assad would run for re-election later this year.
“We have diplomacy, and that’s what Kerry is trying to work on, but nobody can figure it out,” Landis says. “It’s a mystery how he can say that Assad has to step down without sending F-16s to Syria.”
Landis says a larger question will be how external players, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, using Syria as a proxy settle their differences.
“Most of the money and arms going into Syria are coming from these two actors,” Landis says. “Until they sit down and begin to agree on what’s acceptable to them in Syria, their clients are going to have a hard time sitting down and agreeing.”
So what can the two sides get out of this?
“Greater movement for aid workers, and perhaps some ceasefires,” Landis says. “The problem is once you begin negotiating a ceasefire, if you leave Assad in place, you’re partitioning Syria, and ‘partition’ is the word that nobody wants to use.”
Landis says most wars only end when sides recognize they can’t conquer their enemy, but with battle lines clearly drawn, the likely stalemate in Geneva shows Syria isn’t there yet.
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