January 5, 2013

News Analysis: A political solution of the Syrian crisis might be in the making

    Saturday, January 05, 2013   No comments


Since the last disappointing meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria in Morocco, which was not attended by Secretary Clinton, diplomats have been active trying to find common ground for solving the Syrian crisis. Most notably, there has been a change of tone in the statements by the supporters of the opposition forces represented in the National Coalition, also known as the Doha group.

On Sunday, the Saudi foreign minister agreed with his Egyptian counterpart that a “peaceful” transition in Syria is needed to end the bloodshed. Both ministers agreed that the inclusion or exclusion of Assad in any political solution ought to be left to the Syrian people.

Last month, Turkey softened its criticism of Assad and proposed that Assad remains in power for three months, before resigning and be replaced by a government led by a figure from the National Coalition. Reacting to the proposal, Russia announced that it will never support a proposal that would oust Assad from power. Russian diplomats emphasized that Assad’s political future can only be determined by the Syrian people. 

Assad, too, refused to meet with the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, until the latter clarified what he meant by a “transitional government.” He insisted that the sovereignty of the state with all its current institutions, including the military and security forces, is not up for negotiations.  Assad then sent his deputy foreign minister to Russia and Iran to emphasize this point.

In the light of the stalemate on the military front and the unwavering support of Assad from Russia and China in the UN, some countries started to take Brahimi’s warnings seriously. The sponsors of the Doha opposition groups are now looking for other options.

Turkey for instance, is sending a senior diplomat, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, to Moscow to hold talks with Russian officials. Turkish officials hinted that the diplomat will carry “new proposals for solving the Syrian crisis.” Sinirlioğlu, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary, will visit the Kremlin, where he will meet with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

This development comes after the Turkish president Abdullah Gül acknowledged that sidestepping Russia was a mistake and that Russia and Iran must be included in formulating a solution for the Syrian crisis. Speaking to journalists recently, Gül declared:

"From the very onset of the crisis, we have always opted for a controlled and orderly change in Syria. As a result of the escalation of events, we made it clear to everyone that Turkey, in unity with the free world, will support the Syrian people in their demands. But from the very beginning, I have argued that both Russia and Iran should be invited to engage with the transition in Syria to prevent further bloodshed. I believe that Russia in particular should be treated properly."

Iran, too, is taking a more active role. Today, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad arrived in Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials. Mikdad is scheduled to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Salehi, who is on his way to tour Africa, will make a stop in Egypt before returning home. He is scheduled to meet Egyptian officials including the president and the foreign minister as well as Brahimi.

All these developments suggest that the world community is now determined to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis before the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising that turned violent three months later. This is a crucial year since Assad’s term in office will end up in 2014. If no solution is found now, the country may continue to live in a perpetual state of civil war.

Tomorrow, Assad will deliver a speech. He might provide a clear vision for the way forward. All indications show that he is open to the formation of a transitional government that would include figures from the internal and external oppositions, though he is opposed to having members of the Muslim Brotherhood included. Given the mishap by the president of the National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who demanded an apology from Russia, it is more likely that Haytham Manna will play a big role in any transitional government.

The complexity of the Syrian problem and the miscalculations by regional and international players will cause transition to peace to be slow. Nonetheless, an end to the cycle of violence will not be possible without an agreement between the major regional and world powers. Specifically, the United States, Russia, Iran, and Turkey must find common ground. The other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will eventually follow the lead of the U.S. But the U.S. is unlikely to make a commitment before the confirmation of a new secretary of state.

 If John Kerry is confirmed, and there is no reason to believe he won’t be, he is likely to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy on Syria. He met with Assad at least five times in the two years before the start of the protests in Syria. He understands Assad better than any other U.S. diplomat and his foreign affairs expertise derived from chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could serve him well.



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Islamic Societies Review Editors

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