UN Peace Negotiations Postponed While U.S. and France Host Meeting for New Phase of
UN Security Council passes Resolution 2254 on peace talks in Syria, December 18, 2015. (UN)
On December 18, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2254 (2015), endorsing “a road map for a peace process in Syria.” It set out an early-January timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Syrian government and opposition members, as well as the “outlines” of a nation-wide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned “have taken initial steps towards a political transition.” The resolution called for the formation of a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” government within six months and UN-supervised “free and fair elections” within 18 months.
The UN-facilitated talks were scheduled to begin January 25 in Geneva but it was announced on January 21 that they have been postponed, reportedly over disagreements about the agenda and which groups will be included in the “opposition” delegation in the talks, with a major point of contention being which groups constitute legitimate political opposition and which are terrorists.
Meanwhile on January 20, five days before the Geneva Peace Talks were to begin, the U.S. and France co-hosted a meeting in Paris of Defence Ministers from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, the meeting “offered a chance to align coalition partner views on capabilities needed to prosecute the military and non-military campaigns.” However, this can be seen as yet another attempt to sabotage a political solution to the conflict in Syria by trying to establish a coalition against Russia to put the initiative in the hands of the U.S. imperialists to achieve their aim of removing the Assad government. It is a desperate plan indeed in which Canada is also participating even though it was not invited to the meeting.
In this vein, the Paris meeting was a venue for Carter to lay out the U.S. plan to accelerate the war against ISIS, by focusing on “training, advising and assisting” their allies in Syria and Iraq, stepping up black ops by U.S. special forces and having other “partners” contribute to this new campaign “based on their capabilities.”
Carter had spoken earlier about the “counter-ISIL campaign plan” on January 13 in remarks to the 101st Airborne Division as it was preparing for a deployment to Syria. In those remarks, he indicated that the soldiers will work with “local forces” — Iraqi troops and the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan known as the Peshmerga — to take back what he described as “Islamic State strongholds” in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
“The Iraqi and Peshmerga forces you will train, advise and assist have proven their determination, their resiliency, and increasingly, their capability. But they need you to continue building on that success, preparing them for the fight today and the long hard fight for their future. They need your skill. They need your experience. Often, they will need your patience,” he said.
Carter said the plan is aimed at rooting out “the ISIL parent tumour” in the two cities. He said this requires focusing on enabling “local, motivated forces and an international coalition with a clear campaign plan, with American leadership, and with all of our awesome capabilities — ranging from air strikes, special forces, cyber tools, intelligence, equipment, mobility and logistics, to training, advice and assistance from those on the ground — including you.”
As part of this new campaign, despite a lack of authorization from the U.S. Congress for combat in Syria, the U.S. has ordered its “special operations forces” into Syria, Carter said. He explained that the special forces’ role is “to mobilize Syrian forces on the ground.” Ever ready to present U.S. schemes as a success story, Carter said the special forces have already established contact with “new forces that share our goals, new lines of communication to local, motivated and capable fighters, and new targets for airstrikes and strikes of all kinds.”
All of this counters the attempt to resolve the conflict in Syria politically.
Russia, the U.S. and UN officials recently met to strike a deal over who would be accepted to sit at the negotiating table for the opposition, but this failed to sort out the contradictions.
In December, Saudi Arabia convoked various groups to attend a conference in Riyadh where they established a 33-member “Supreme Council” of the opposition. On January 21, this council announced that it had named a 17-member delegation to the Geneva negotiations and that its chief negotiator would be Mohammad Alloush, a leader of the group Jaysh al Islam (Army of Islam). Asaad al-Zoabi, a former Syrian Army colonel who now leads a U.S.-backed armed group in southern Syria, is to serve as head of the delegation, while George Sabra, President of the Syrian National Council which is based in Istanbul, Turkey, will be his deputy. (Sabra came to Canada in August 2013 to drum up support for the Council and to lobby the Canadian government to step up its efforts to criticize the Syrian government and provide humanitarian aid. At that time he met with Foreign Minister John Baird and also stated that a political solution to the conflict was not possible.)
Besides Jaysh al-Islam, the U.S. is also pushing to include Ahrar al-Islam. Russia has said that Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-sham are terrorist organizations and propagandists for a military solution to the crisis and should not be part of what is called the opposition. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, following a recent meeting with representatives of the UN and U.S., said that the opposition delegation must only consist of those forces that call for a political settlement, in keeping with Resolution 2254’s stipulation that an inclusive delegation of the Syrian opposition be made up of “all of the influential forces committed to a political settlement” to the crisis. Russia is also said to be calling for the inclusion of other forces in Syria, such as the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Another opposition group, the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change, was also quick to denounce the participation of Alloush and al-Zoabi saying it was “not acceptable for the head of the delegation and the chief negotiator to be affiliated with the armed opposition.”
Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the PYD has also said that Jaysh al-Islam, has the “same mentality” as al Qaeda and ISIL and that this is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, the coordinator of the so-called Supreme Council, former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said the council’s delegation must be the only representative of the opposition at the talks, adding, “We will not go to negotiations if a third party or person is added.” Reports indicate that the Supreme Council does not want the PYD in particular involved, based on the fact that the PYD does not agree with the Supreme Council’s consensus that any transition must include the removal of President Assad. They accuse the PYD of fighting alongside the government, which the PYD says is false and that in fact they are defending themselves against groups that one day were affiliated to radical Islamists and the next day were calling themselves moderates.
The Syrian government has also established its delegation to the talks, to be led by its ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
On January 23, Bloomberg News reported that Russia and the U.S. are nevertheless close to reaching a compromise over which parties can participate in the talks for the Syrian opposition. Citing confidential diplomatic sources it said Russia will not block the inclusion of Jaysh Al Islam in return for a separate delegation being invited with the opposition figures it has proposed. A spokesperson for UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said a press briefing will be held on Monday, January 25 to provide more details.