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Opinion

Geneva II: Friends like these

Mending regional fences and re-establishing cross border bridges of trust should become a priority for all key players.

Last updated: 24 Jan 2014 08:45
Ammar Waqqaf

Ammar Waqqaf is a member of the British Syrian Society. He works as a management consultant in the UK.
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The Saudi agenda in Geneva II is to push towards the removal of Assad from power [EPA]

The reason it took 18 months to convene Geneva II is simple: Interpreting the Geneva I Communique on Syria with the sole intention of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For the agreement to work, however, Geneva I needs to be read with the intention of paving the way for an end to the three-year Syrian conflict. In other words, rather than using this agreement against a certain individual or party, it should be used to achieve something. A small difference, yes, but an all important one.

Today, the scene at Geneva has become rather complex. All parties view the process from divergent angles, and disputes run far deeper than the usual rhetoric about President Assad. Most would now agree that this is not simply a domestic problem in Syria; it has become regional.

By dispatching a delegation that is mainly composed of foreign affairs officials, the Syrian government has sent a clear signal that they are not in Geneva to conduct domestic business. They obviously view Geneva II as a venue where regional disputes should be addressed.

By dispatching a delegation mainly composed of foreign affairs officials, the Syrian government has sent a clear signal that they are not in Geneva to conduct domestic business. They obviously view Geneva II as a venue where regional disputes should be addressed.

The rationale behind their position is that, due to the prevailing regional involvement, a domestic agreement won't work if regional players are not signed on to it. Syrian officials have even tried to bring attention to what ought to be an obvious common objective, i.e. war against terrorism.

One reason why the Syrian government can claim to be right in giving priority to regional matters over domestic ones is the pathetic state of the Syrian opposition. What appears to divide the opposition is not whether or not to negotiate with the "regime", but whether they are capable of doing so with the veneer of legitimacy they believe they have. The so-called opposition figures have always followed the street; they've never been in a position to lead the public. Now, they certainly have cause to fear their wrath, should the much-hyped promises they made three years ago prove unachievable.

Unfortunately for them, the more they attempt to pacify the anti-government public, by insisting at the highest possible levels that President Assad has no future in Syria, the harder their fall will be, should that objective prove to be unattainable.

Influence on the ground

Another reason why the Syrian government feels there is a need to reach regional understandings is that those people with real influence on the ground, in the areas outside government control, i.e. the militancy commanders, are directly linked to regional powers.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem's question to the opposition during the opening ceremony at Montreux, asking what tools they had for bringing change on the ground, apart from militant groups, was revealing. It both illustrated the opposition's destructive approach and their lack of real influence over local warlords who operate with near-total independence.

On the regional level, Iran - a key ally of the Syrian government - views the issue from a similar perspective. In fact, both countries believe that the protests in Syria are chiefly aimed at reducing their regional influence. In addition, it would appear Iran now views the Syrian crisis as an opportunity and not only a threat, as being part of the lengthy process of reintegrating the current Iranian political apparatus into the international fold, and recognising Iran as a genuine regional super power.

Enter the Saudis, who are emerging as the main force behind the rebellion. The key consideration with the Saudi position is that they feel they have a realistic chance of getting rid of the Syrian "regime" for good, albeit with a bit of patience. The Saudis, therefore, are working on holding onto as many strings as possible, regarding both the political opposition and the militants on the ground.

Who knows, in two years' time, there might be a new president in the White House who would be less reluctant to use military force against Syria, or even Iran. Saudi Arabia, therefore, prefers to keep Iran at arm's length at the moment, in order not to be pushed into an unnecessary position with its arch rivals. They prefer to use whatever is left of the SNC to push for some sort of gain on the Syrian domestic level before agreeing to go regional.

Apart from these four main factions, many other domestic, regional and international elements contribute to the mix and add to its confusing nature. But from our point of view, as Syrian nationals, for this complex situation to develop in a benign way, both for Syria and for the region, many argue that mending regional fences and re-establishing cross border bridges of trust should become a priority for all key players. Such players need a breather after so much resources have been expended. And none require such a break more than the Syrian people themselves.

Ammar Waqqaf is a member of the British Syrian Society. He works as a management consultant in the UK.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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