Ziad Majed

What must happen before Geneva II

If the Syrian opposition goes to Geneva, they should only participate under these conditions

John Kerry at a Geneva press conference.

Global attention is focused again on the Geneva II Conference, especially now that US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to convince the Syrian National Coalition and some Arab foreign ministers to attend the conference.


Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime, however, are more lukewarm about Geneva II – and Assad seems more concerned about his forces’ military positions around Damascus and Houran, which are key to preventing opposition-led offensives against the capital. Indeed, the Syrian regime is placing political and material bets on Russian cover and on Iran’s continuing support despite the burgeoning rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.


Yet ambiguity hovers over the conditions leading up to the Geneva II Conference, as well as the details regarding US-Russian agreements on Syria. All of this raises four issues that the Syrian political opposition and revolutionary forces should pay attention to.


1. Dialogue must be on condition of a ceasefire as well as the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, starting with dissident political leaders and officers. Humanitarian corridors that lift the crippling siege off Ghouta, Maadamiyat al-Sham, the Yarmouk refugee camp, and Homs’ old neighborhoods must be put in place.


2.  The pro-dialogue US administration as well as European and regional governments must publicly demand that there be no place for the Assad family in Syria’s political future. Temporary negotiations should aim to end the fighting and prepare for a political transition.


While some Western officials cite the example of former President Slobodan Milošević during the Yugoslav war, a similar diplomatic approach is unacceptable in Syria. The international situation today is not the same as it was fifteen years ago, and any commitments in this respect should be unequivocal.


3. Dialogue must be conditional on the acceptance of armament demands. This would allow military operations to go on in case negotiations fail or are adjourned such that time does not play out in favor of the regime troops, which are well-equipped and supported by thousands of fighters from Iraqi and Lebanese sectarian militias.


4. The conference should define the Syrian opposition’s potential contribution to dismantling the regime’s strong security apparatus by submitting lists with the names of officers to be excluded – and subsequently tried for their involvement in field crimes – and by proposing the names of other officers as alternatives to take on army responsibilities at a later stage.


Thus, it is not enough that the opposition simply accept or refuse to take part in dialogue. Conditions are a necessity, but contingency plans must be made in case the opposition rejects these conferences. Alternatives must ensure that Europe, particularly France, and other Arab and regional players including the Gulf and Turkey are able to continue providing political, material, and military support regardless of US policy. This is all the more imperative considering that fierce fighting with the regime and probably even with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is likely to occur.


More importantly, it would be extremely dangerous to hold negotiations for the sake of negotiations. The real focus should be on improving the humanitarian conditions of the millions of Syrians who have become victims of sieges, oppression, imprisonment, and deportation imposed by the regime (which is enough, as such, to weaken this regime). Such negotiations should, at the same time, continue to give precedence to consolidating field conflict lines. Indeed, negotiations are, sometimes, a political requirement as well as a means to catch one’s breath and brace oneself for the next storm.


This article is a translation from the original Arabic.

John Kerry at a press conference in Geneva this September. (AFP photo/Larry Downing)

“It is simply not enough for the opposition to accept or refuse to take part in the dialogue.”