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Inside Story

Syria: A chance for peace?

As the opposing sides meet ahead of the Geneva II peace talks, we ask if a political solution is still possible.

Last updated: 23 Jan 2014 12:09
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In the biggest diplomatic push so far to stop the fighting in Syria, the government and opposition have met and vented their mutual hostility at a UN peace conference in Switzerland, while world powers offered sharply differing views on forcing out President Bashar al-Assad.

Both sides made opening statements in the small town of Montreux on Wednesday, with direct talks expected to begin in Geneva on Friday.

If have to sum up today’s meeting, I would say to the Syrian citizens, and to the Syrian civilians in Syria, I am very sorry I do not have good news for you. No one moved one inch from his base, no one moved one inch on your civil and human rights, no one moved one inch from his own narrative, everybody stuck to his own guns, everybody is digging his hills further and further, and for you I don’t have any good news. So [if] Asad stays, [or] Asad goes is basically the will of the international community.

Ghassan Shabaneh, a political analyst and a professor at Marymount Manhattan College.

The Geneva II peace talks are the first time in almost three years of conflict that the Syrian government and the opposition have spoken to each other.

However, opposition figures attending the summit do not represent the armed groups fighting on the ground - which poses a serious problem if a solution is to be reached.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who heads Assad's delegation, and Ahmed Jabra, the president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), exchanged accusations of treason and terrorism, each holding the other side responsible for the violence that has killed more than 130,000 people and displaced millions more.

"They have started with no shame, to give us lessons in democracy while they live in backwardness. They have decided what is right and wrong because they are used to having countries that are properties of a king or an emir, and now the mask has fallen and we can see the real face of what they want - to destabilise and destroy Syria and through exporting terrorism," Muallem said.

"They have used their petrodollars to buy weapons and use mercenaries and flood international media with lies, " he added. 

Jarba meanwhile declared: "The aim was to keep Bashar on his throne. However the Syrian people are crying for their martyrs that fell for the sake of the freedom of Syria. In our Syria, we consider that Syrians are all the victims of one man, just to remain on his throne. He forgets that no throne in the world has the value of one single innocent life."

The SNC is Syria's main opposition body, but it has been deeply divided on the Geneva II conference. It eventually voted in favour of attending the summit but not before more than 40 members walked out.
 
The SNC does not represent the fighters on the ground. Many, including the Free Syria Army, are against Geneva II because they do not think it will lead to the Assad's removal from power.

This view is supported by the US delegation, led by Secretary of State John Kerry. 

"Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transitional government, means that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other," Kerry said. 

"That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of the transition government. There is no way, no way possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy of the government. One man and those who supported him cannot hold an entire nation and the region hostage," he added.

Turkey, Britain, and Gulf states including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar also support the US' view. Meanwhile, Syria’s government is supported by Russia and Iran, although Iran is not present at these talks. Syria's government says it supports a coalition government, but refuses to exclude President Assad.

So, what can really be achieved during these negotiations? Can a solution be implemented on the ground? And is there a chance for peace?

To discuss this Inside Story presenter Shiulie Ghosh is joined by guests: Anas Al Abdeh, a leading member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who has been attending the talks in Montreux; Ammar Waqqaf, a member of the Syrian Social Club - a pro government group which supports reform; and Ghassan Shabaneh, a political analyst and a professor at Marymount Manhattan College.

"We believe it is time to think seriously about a political solution in Syria, and the only framework for this political solution is Geneva I at the moment … We think there is a hope, there is a chance, and we are taking that chance for the sake of the Syrian people, for the sake of the Syrian children. We came here today for one purpose, and one purpose only, which is to work on establishing a transitional government body with full executive authority and power over all state institutions, including army and security forces with the consent of both parties."

Anas Al Abdeh, a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition 

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Al Jazeera
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