GENEVA — On the eve of ministerial talks on Syria, International envoy Kofi Annan says he is optimistic about achieving an acceptable outcome. But, negative comments from Russia and the Syrian government about Annan’s proposed transitional plan for Syria indicate many difficulties lie ahead.
A meeting of senior officials is taking place in preparation for the ministerial meeting on Syria Saturday. Western and Arab diplomats say this meeting is key to getting consensus on International envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for a Syrian government of national unity.
Annan says he expects a good meeting with an acceptable result. But, reconciling the huge differences between the United States and Russia could prove to be a deal breaker. Washington insists Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should not remain in power. Russia, Syria’s staunch ally, opposes this. Both Syria and Russia warn the international community not to meddle in the Syrian government’s internal affairs.
Daniel Warner, assistant director for International Affairs at the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces says he considers the presence of the five permanent members of the Security Council and other high level officials at the meeting to be positive. But, he says the fact that both Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are regional power brokers, are not at the table weakens the process.
“I do think that the chances of something concrete and positive coming out of the meeting in Geneva are highly doubtful. There seems to me to be a civil war going on. Mr. Annan wants a national unity cabinet, which will include the current government, as well as the opposition. And, I think given the fact that there is a civil war, it will be very difficult for the two parties to sit down and work together in some form of unified cabinet,” Warner said.
The war in Syria is having a spillover affect in the region. This can be seen in clashes between Sunni pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Lebanon, as well as the shooting down of a Turkish airplane by Syria. The United Nations reports there are 96,000 registered Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, with many more fleeing every day.
Warner says the war in Syria has become an international threat to peace and security. But, he says the international community cannot impose a cease-fire that is not accepted by both the government and the opposition.
The meeting in Geneva aims to end Syria’s 16-month conflict, which has claimed at least 10,000 lives. Warner says the most important outcome of the meeting for Annan would be to achieve a cease-fire so the killing would stop. He says Annan’s six-point peace plan is in trouble, but the meeting offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the process.
“I think that is important. I think there is always some kind of hope. This may be the last chance. I think the fact that the Russians are coming, the fact that the Americans are there, members of the Security Council, Turkey, leaders from the Middle East - all of that is positive. They all understand that the situation in Syria is getting close to being out of control for the entire region. So, I think there is a recognition that this is an important issue. The actual solution does not seem obvious for the moment. But, we hope some creativity will come out of Geneva and they will come up with some kind of solution,” Warner said.
The high-level officials who will attend the meeting may have points of difference, but there seems to be general agreement that the crisis in Syria will not be resolved through continued fighting. They understand that only a political settlement will achieve this. But, in order to kick-start the political process, the violence must end.