How Geneva II could be worsening chances of Syria peace

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carry the national flag as they ride on motorcycles in Qusair, after the Syrian army took control from rebel fighters, June 5, 2013. The population of Qusair - once a thriving city set in lush groves of olives and apricots which now lies in utter ruin - has fallen from around 300,000 people to just 500.

The US and UK are looking with renewed urgency at the possibility of sending arms to the Syrian opposition. Insiders say that this comes in response to recent successes by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, notably in Qusair where they were helped by Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen.

However, the briefing about weaponry may also indicate the effective ending of hopes for a Syria peace conference, dubbed Geneva II by diplomats.

In Moscow in early May the US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, announced they would co-sponsor a resumption of negotiations begun in Switzerland last year. It was Mr Lavrov's task to bring Moscow's allies in Mr Assad's camp to the table, and America's to deliver the Syrian opposition.

The two men talked of their hopes of getting the conference together before the end of May, then when that seemed unrealistic the chatter was about the second week in June. Now there are vague suggestions about July.

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In Whitehall people are split about the wisdom of sending lethal aid. Much legal, military, and foreign policy advice is opposed, but Downing Street is much more open to the idea”

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In May, US talk of supplying arms to the resistance, following reports in April about chemical weapons, was shelved with the White House briefing the issue would be set aside until after Geneva II. The British meanwhile argued that ending the EU arms embargo was a step designed to incentivise negotiation.

On one reading, statements by US and UK officials actually could be argued to have given the Syrian Coalition reasons to hope for the failure of the diplomatic process. For, if everything went to plan diplomatically, the rebels would get no arms from them.

Certainly the disparate groups that make up the coalition (and there are important militias such as the Jabhat al-Nusra that are not even notionally part of it) were soon placing conditions on attending the Geneva and splits within what is a loose alliance at the best of times widened.

When I suggested to one senior figure at the recent Cameron/Obama White House meetings that they would have a hard job delivering the Syrian opposition for Geneva II, he told me, "We have many different points of pressure we can use on them".

Gen Selim Idriss Gen Idriss says his men can topple President Bashar al-Assad if they receive help from overseas.

But barring an astonishing turn around, Mr Kerry's Moscow offer to achieve this goal seems destined to fail.

Now Gen Selim Idriss, the Syrian coalition's military head, says the idea of attending the Geneva conference is, "a joke". He has appealed for arms immediately in order to forestall further offensives from the Assad government and its Hezbollah allies. So much for US/UK "pressure points".

In Whitehall people are split about the wisdom of sending lethal aid. Much legal, military, and foreign policy advice is opposed, but Downing Street is much more open to the idea.

"We are close to being back where we were in the 1980s [with the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan], supplying weapons to Islamic extremists," one insider told me on Monday. He suggested man portable anti-aircraft missiles were high on the list of possible UK transfers.

As to what might be gained by doing this, some Machiavellian arguments are doing the rounds in Washington and London. The intelligence people and foreign policy advisers in both countries are scathing about the ability of the disparate opposition groups to concert an effective strategy, and resigned to Western-supplied arms going to "undesirable" groups.

"We cannot allow Iran and Hezbollah to win this one," a one-time Downing Street staffer has told me. Others have suggestions about using Syria as an arena to do to Iran what the Islamic Republic did to the US and UK in Iraq.

It seems then that there are many who now believe the supply of weapons is necessary to prevent the resistance to Mr Assad going under. In other words a measure once advertised as a means of getting people around the negotiating table has become a way of prolonging the conflict.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Russia's involvement in this complicates the issue and increases the likelihood that the West will support the rebels for several reasons, including the sale of high tech weapons to this government, the leading party of which is a derivative of Naziism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    How might democracy 'conquer & heal', even Syria? Every day, every man & woman & child - in agreed enduring equal partnership - would be free to give a full day's labour, to the extent of ability & opportunity, with fullest enthusiasm, life further enhanced by freedom of informal giving, the enjoyment of what in sunnier times have been taken too much for granted, the normal, human, heaven-blessed

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    If today the UK began honest debate on morality & politics, if tomorrow we agreed real democracy, still our actions abroad would be analysed, & no doubt criticised, for their relation to commerce, politics & strategic defence. The calculus of 'action in the Middle East' would still be in EU & NATO contexts, but the compounding of subtle change in all actors could be rapidly transformative. Urgent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Even as we wonder, in countries large and small, about life beyond the Great Game of bluff and tussle, hide and seek, we have to deal with the reality of that game, today and for many tomorrows. Would we weaken our position, our real and perceived resolve, by thinking seriously about democracy. Arguably, the example of real democracy will be part of the End Game, allies to appear everywhere. Now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    To send arms and fight just because some warmongers "do not want Iran and Hezbollah to win this one" is very foolish indeed. So they want Al-Qaeda rebels to win because of that ? All along the noise by Hague was to bring democracy to Syria? To Hague and other warmongers in UK , US and France Al-Qaeda , Qatar, & Saudi Arabia have become the champions of democracy. What a disgrace by UK & allies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Fight fire with fire. Guerrilla tactics are a two way street. Training and arming the right people is the debate. Get back at the enemy with the a modern complex guerrilla army. All things being equal and all that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    In the context of profound democratic deficit, at home divided, all states in aggressive fear, what advice for our Quisling puppeteers, bound to be playing the Great Game, knowing our readiness for sacrifice (if need be), having in mind career and party advantage in 'success' (at least as apparent)? Having abdicated responsibility to claim democracy, can we say more than 'leave it to Mammon'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    How easily we carry on, ignoring the big picture, the big problem we need to solve - in the calm of highest counsels, where reason should prevail - to make soluble the plights of the little people, individuals, families, states and regions, caught up in the tectonic collisions of artificial unnecessary supra-human 'blocs'. The big solution is so easy, our agreed equal partnership, as individuals

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Send them some weapons and keep them fighting, eventually they will realise that fighting is going to get them no where and keeps the chance of the insurgents involved ever turning their guns on Europe and the West. If they can see they are destroying their own people and land then they deserve to get what they want.
    Let them fight for a long time until they dont want to fight anymore, then talks

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    russia and china signed up for oil rights that assad to stay

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Global agenda was always about who controlled Money.Without Fgn Meddling Syria would not be in the state it's in today,nor would Libya,Iraq or Afghanistan none of which have any Success to boast.Until those Nations promoting Destabelisation are held to account nothing will change.Same Sanctions used to cripple Targets will be used against us.S America is already talking of Sanctions against US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    300,000 people to just 500. Is this on purpose?? I doubt your intentions. The population of Al-qusair was 30 000 (not 300 000) before the crisis in Syria and was just a few thousands after the terrorists took the town, with 20 000 Christians forced to leave their homes.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! try again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What is all this nonsense ?

    --the whole region is engulfed in a Sunni-Shia religious war, with the smaller sects attempting not to become Collateral Damage.

    -- the only western interest is to sell arms.

    -- With the UK and France attempting to bring the EU into their warmongering --all must stay out of the fray -

    If not, we will also end up as similar Collateral Damage.

    --Keep out of it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    James R @2
    False argument, meant or not to deceive?

    Always, we wish starting point different, as it was or as imagined to have been: but always we know the risk, of nations and faiths, brave soldiers-under-command and civilians-in-the-way, being caught up in what - to high and shadowy figures - are 'games'. We will know our true leaders when they invite us to agree equal partnership.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The West will wind up doing lately and badly what it should have done early and well. Delays in providing adequate means of self-defense against air strikes and armor, for fear of weapons falling into the hands of islamists, have resulted in a vacuum increasingly filled by said islamists. An exercise in sophistry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Shocking, "Machiavellian" argument that Western arms might now be risked, in supply to Syrian rebels, in revenge for 'Iranian' sectarianism in Iraq. Terrible thought, might naive protests of Syrian provincials 'for democracy' have been prompted, for the next off-our-soil focus of 'necessary' conflict & next outlet for arms sales? Machiavelli wrote for 'princes'. Real democracy still unthinkable?



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