Inside Syria

Can dialogue end Syria's crisis?

As head of Syrian opposition coalition pushes for talks with the government, we ask if negotiations can bring peace.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2013 11:58

Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian National Coalition has intensified his push for talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government, despite criticism and opposition from his colleagues in the coalition.

He went as far as as identifying Farouk al-Sharaa, Syria's deputy president, as the figure with whom he would like to begin talks. 

"Of course we have seen changes among the Syrian opposition, but the key thing that has changed is that here ... in the US government, two major developments happened. One is what I call the Benghazi effect, where the Obama administration became a little less enamoured with arming, funding and training oppositionists to overthrow a sitting government. And the second is they became a little less attached to the delusion that trying to overthrow the Assad government would somehow lead to the overthrow of the Iranian government."

- Hillary Mann-Leverett, professor, American University

On Tuesday al-Khatib, who met a number of western officials in Germany, said:

"Since the start of the conflict, Farouq al-Sharaa knew that things were not going the right way. Just because Sharaa is part of the regime doesn't mean we can't talk to him. I'm asking the regime to commission Sharaa, if the regime accepts, for talks with us. Where's the problem with that?

"The issue is now in the state's court to accept negotiations for departure, with fewer losses. The regime must take a clear stand and we say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully."

This initiative from the head of the SNC to talk to al-Assad's government came with certain conditions; mainly the release of 160,000 prisoners and the extension of passports held by Syrian citizens.

The Syrian government responded saying it is open to dialogue, but with no preconditions.

In a statement on state television on Friday, Omran al-Zoubi, Syria's information minister, said:

"I invite all opposition forces inside Syria ... and all armed fighters who lay down their weapons to join the process of dialogue. They will be partners in achieving a political solution to the crisis .... I also invite all opposition forces to join this process, and to adhere to our national interests by rejecting external interference, maintain sovereignty and denounce violence."

"In a civil war, leaders or aspiring leaders always seek political solutions. But in a civil war there are no political solutions really. The process of getting to a ceasefire or stopping the conflict is what we are talking about. At the end of the day, this is a process to gain time so that people can position themselves better on the ground to acquire lethal weapons that eventually will make sure that one side or the other wins this conflict."

- Joseph Kechichian, Middle East analyst

The US has strongly backed al-Khatib's moves to open dialogue with al-Assad's government to end almost two years of fighting. But Victroia Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, stressed that the US position remained unchanged on bringing to accounts those - on both sides - who have committed atrocities.

Earlier this week, US Vice President Joe Biden met al-Khatib in Munich. Biden said he had urged him to isolate extremists within the broader opposition and to reach out to, and be inclusive of, a broad range of communities inside Syria.

And as the leader of the opposition is hoping to engage in talks with the government, the fighters on the ground are hoping to achieve more gains.

In Aleppo city, rebels are seeking the upper hand now that they have taken control of a district in the Southeast.

The territorial gain has blocked the government's only land route into areas it controls in western Aleppo. But regime forces are fighting back.

So, is dialogue the best way out of the crisis in Syria?

To discuss this, Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Najib Ghadbian, a member of the Syrian National Coalition and its representative in the US; Hillary Mann-Leverett, a professor of US foreign policy at the American University and co-author of the new book: Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran; and Joseph Kechichian, a Middle East analyst and a columinst for Gulf News.


Al Jazeera
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