Inside Syria

A second chance for diplomacy?

The US and Russia, who have been at odds over the war in Syria, are making a new push to end the violence there.

Last Modified: 12 May 2013 10:55
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After months of deadlock, diplomacy gets another chance as the two superpowers that have been at odds over the war in Syria are making a new push to end the violence.

John Kerry's visit to Moscow means there is a real chance for the region to come to some sort of decision that will satisfy all sides.

Vyacheslav Matuzov, chairman of Russia's Society of Friendship and Business Cooperation with Arabic Countries

After a meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, are hoping to prod the warring sides back to the negotiating table.

It is their first significant diplomatic initiative in nearly a year - a move that both the Syrian government in Damascus and the opposition have welcomed. 

News of a possible diplomatic breakthrough was also well received by the UN, the Arab League, its joint envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and the European Union.

The Syrian government says it will consider any proposal to end the conflict through negotiations, but it needs more details and wants to retain its right to fight the "terrorists" - a term it uses to describe various rebel groups.

But this may be a tough condition since ending the violence is a prerequisite for any settlement.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group, said it welcomes the idea but it stuck to its earlier condition, that President Bashar al-Assad and his regime must go. Both conditions remain stumbling blocks to any real chance of peace.

The Syrian government insists that al-Assad’s future and his role can only be decided at the ballot box in 2014. And it is banking on its ally Moscow to make that clear.

The [US] administration is reaching out once again to the Russians in the hope that the Russians themselves are alarmed by the turn of events and would be more willing to cooperate now than they may have been a year or more ago.

Theodore Kattouf, former US ambassador to Syria

It is also banking on the progress it has made on the battlefield. In the past month, government forces have made major advances and driven rebels out of many of their strongholds. But al-Assad is still a long way from winning the war, or crushing the rebels.

The SNC's representative to the UN and the US, Najib Ghadbian, told Al Jazeera's James Bays that al-Assad cannot be part of a transitional government, but others within the Damascus government can.

"Now as we look at the regime, we make a distinction between those who are in a position of leading security apparatus and elite units who are responsible for the crimes committed against Syria, and the rest. The rest, I think, there’s a wide range of officials including most members of the cabinet who can be acceptable."

US Secretary of State Kerry set the same condition: "The foreign minister will work with us ... [to] effect a transition government by mutual consent of both sides, which clearly means that in our judgement, President Assad will not be a component of that transitional government."

Asked if most members of the current Syrian cabinet could be in a transitional government, he replied, "Uh, yes".

To unpack the latest developments for Inside Syria, Hazem Sika speaks to: Theodore Kattouf, a former US ambassador to Syria; Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Centre and a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics; and Vyacheslav Matuzov, a former Russian diplomat and the chairman of Russia's Society of Friendship and Business Cooperation with Arabic Countries.

"The United States is operating on two levels - the first level is to basically try to see whether America and Russia can reach a political settlement ... to ease Assad out of power as opposed to a frontal attack, as has been the case, to remove Assad by force. We should make no mistake about the second level on which the American government is operating - that is to keep up the pressure on the Assad government, to increase its support for the armed opposition and the political opposition."

Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre 


Al Jazeera
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