It’s been five years since pro-democracy protests started challenging the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. After years of ongoing bloodshed and multiple failed attempts to resolve the conflict, no one is counting the dead anymore, but it is estimated that the Syrian crisis has killed 300,000 people and displaced millions.
Ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Geneva on March 14, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, says there is a higher chance than ever of achieving a political solution.
, no one would never have imagined this conflict would have gone there, but perhaps now we have a chance to try to put an end to it.”]
“Five years [ago], no one would have ever imagined this conflict would have gone there. But perhaps now we have a chance to try and put an end to it,” says de Mistura.
Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis started early on with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan being appointed special envoy to Syria in 2011, but Annan as well as his successor, veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, failed to bring peace to Syria.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat de Mistura managed to bring all the key international and regional players, including for the first time Iran, back to the negotiating table.
“We do have something that both Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, who tried very hard and could not have at that moment: some unity at the Security Council,” he says.
With some parties calling for a federal structure for Syria – which would grant broad autonomy to regional authorities, while maintaining the country’s unity as a single state – de Mistura explains why in his opinion partition is not an option for the war-torn nation:
“The unity of a country is fundamental,” he says. “The last thing that Syria would need and can afford, is a partition: small states, one controlled by a group, sponsored by another, would be unsustainable…. I think no Syrian person, whoever he or she is, would accept that. They are very proud people of their own country.”
Fighting in Syria has slowed considerably since a fragile “cessation of hostilities agreement” brokered by the US and Russia came into force almost two weeks ago. But there have been violations of the truce.
“The issue is whether incidents exist or not. But the reality is whether the incident is contained,” de Mistura says. “Whether the incident becomes an impediment and breaks down the ceasefire. And so far, the ‘cessation of hostilities’ as we call [it], so far they have been succeeding in controlling it.”
Neither the Syrian opposition nor the Syrian government have confirmed whether they will attend the peace talks. But de Mistura says that “the talks need to take place. They [the Syrian people]… are expecting the parties to talk seriously about what the future of Syria can look like.”
He believes that there is no plan B if the peace negotiations fail.
“The plan B, as far as we can see, is just a continuation of a horrible conflict which will go on and on and on. And you know who will be the only victims? The Syrian people. And I don’t think there is a real plan B except for pushing hard for this to go on into a successful outcome of a political solution according to the Geneva Communique.”
So, as the bloody conflict enters its sixth year, what are the prospects for peace for Syria? And after so many failed attempts, what does it take to end the ongoing violence?
Al Jazeera’s James Bays talks to Staffan de Mistura about his challenging mission to bring peace to Syria.
You can talk to Al Jazeera too. Join our Twitter conversation as we talk to world leaders and alternative voices shaping our times. You can also share your views and keep up to date with our latest interviews on Facebook.