As Assad talks war, US and UN talk peace
Rapid deterioration of the situation in Syria has given world leaders a sense of urgency, but they seem no closer to finding common ground.
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Annan said last week that he considered Iran's participation essential, decrying the rivalries between the US and Russia and Saudi Arabia and Iran that have so far blocked it, Tony Karon writes in Time Magazine. “I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution,” Annan said in Geneva last Friday. “If we continue the way we are going and competing with each other, it could lead to destructive competition and everyone will pay the price.”Skip to next paragraph
Middle East Editor
Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog.
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Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, was careful to say that Moscow's agreement to attend the meeting was not a guarantee that it would accept Annan's plan – only that it agreed to it as a basis for discussion, according to AFP.
Annan's interim government would include officials for both sides. Concrete details beyond that are either undisclosed or undecided, although a UN diplomat told AFP that it would not include any officials whose inclusion "might jeopardize the transition 'or undermine efforts to bring reconciliation'."
"The language of Annan's plan suggests that Assad could be excluded but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out," a second UN diplomat told AFP, noting that there isn't anything in the plan to specifically exclude him either.
A senior member of the Syrian opposition said today that the opposition would only agree to a transition plan if it explicitly requires Assad to leave power before the unity government is formed, Reuters reports.
"The proposal is still murky to us but I can tell you that if it does not clearly state that Assad must step down, it will be unacceptable to us," said Samir Nashar, an executive member of the international Syrian National Council. "If the proposal said Assad must step down, then the idea of allowing other members of the current government to participate could be open to discussion."
But those fighting on the ground took a harder line. A Free Syrian Army fighter in Homs told Reuters that they could not accept the plan, period, and that the time for peace-making was long past. "This is just a new labyrinth. It is new silliness for us to get lost in and haggle over who can participate and who can't," said the fighter, Ahmed.
Mr. Karon writes in Time that the US-Russia antagonism leaves little room for optimism about the Geneva talks bringing about any change, or even ending with anything concrete. There are no signs that either party will change elements of its position that the other considers a deal breaker.
Indeed, the parties that will meet with Assad in Geneva have different ideas on resolving the crisis, but none appears to have decisive leverage to bring to bear in order to shape its preferred outcome. The U.S. insists that the conflict can’t be resolved while Assad remains in power; the Russians point out that Washington has no credible plan for dealing with the fallout that would follow the regime’s precipitous collapse. For much of the past year, officials in Washington have speculated that Russia might break with Assad, but the passage of time has made those claims look Pollyannaish.
Indeed, Russia’s willingness to push back against U.S. plans for tackling the Syrian crisis were evident in its effort to support Iran being invited to Annan’s conference. The U.S. nixed that idea, meaning that the conference that will be held in Geneva will be more limited in its scope and ambition. And nobody is expecting an outcome that makes much difference what even Assad himself now calls a “state of war” in Syria.