Few chances of success

Apr 14,2016 – JORDAN TIMES EDITORIAL

The resumption on Wednesday of Syria peace talks in Geneva coincides with continued violence in this Arab country and stubborn differences regarding the issues to be discussed first.

While there is now a broad agreement that the political transition issue should figure high on the agenda of peace talks, the spike in violence between the warring sides dampens down the chances for even discussing this prime issue.

The US ambassador to the UN on Tuesday told reporters in New York, after UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council, that “there are signs that the ceasefire is slipping”.

That means that the fighting in Syria has maybe abated, but has not ended after the limited truce declared in February.

The Syrian opposition claims that Damascus insists on a military solution.

A spokesman for the 34 opposition groups allied themselves as the High Negotiation Committee told reporters on Wednesday that his delegation “insists that there’s one topic on its agenda: the political transition”.

Convincing Damascus to accept this point will be next to impossible, especially when the meaning and scope of political transition is disputed.

The Syrian government insists, for example, that the future of President Bashar Assad is off limits.

For the opposition, Assad’s fate is part and parcel of the envisioned political transition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after meeting with de Mistura last week that Russia wants to see the parties push an agreement on the constitution of the future Syria: “The Syrian parties should discus the new constitution and how they see the structure that will ensure peaceful transition towards a new system.”

Giving priority to rewriting the constitution is warranted in view of the fact that any political process is based on this law of the land.

Complicating talks even more is Damascus’ decision to hold partial parliamentary elections in areas still under its control, where reportedly about 60 per cent of the population lives.

Damascus’ insistence on holding such elections when priority should be given to the issue of political transition as a whole also gives cause for concern.

Given the seemingly unbridgeable differences between the two sides and the conflicting stances US and Russia have on what comes first in any political solution for Syria, the current peace talks can hardly be expected to register progress.

It appears that neither sides has reconciled itself to accepting a middle course in order to improve the chances of success of the peace negotiations.

Until that happens, if ever, talks will remain just tentative explorations of possibilities, not decisive acts that could lead to peace.

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