News / Middle East

Obstacles Hinder International Peace Conference on Syria

A citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on contents and AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels standing in the middle of a medieval market in Old Aleppo, which has been destroyed by fighting.
A citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on contents and AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels standing in the middle of a medieval market in Old Aleppo, which has been destroyed by fighting.
With Syria's civil war deepening, the United States and Russia are trying to arrange a conference to bring about a political settlement between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition.  

Why have the U.S. and Russia decided to work together? Mona Yacoubian, a senior analyst at the Stimson Center in Washington, said there are several reasons.

“The first is this fairly now looks like well-documented use of chemical weapons, which is something that both the United States and Russia have indicated in the past as an area of concern,” said Yacoubian. “The second is the growing prominence of jihadists and extreme elements inside Syria and the mounting concerns that even after Assad, Syria could be, really, an arena of jihadist extremism that would threaten certainly not only those in the region, but beyond - including, potentially, Russia.”

Russian and U.S. officials want an international conference on Syria to build on the results of a June 2012 meeting in Geneva. That conference called for the transfer of power from President Assad to a new government that would emerge from talks between the Assad government and the opposition.

The latest images from Syria
  • A boy sells juice near a damaged bus in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, May 30, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters hold weapons at their post in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, May 29, 2013.
  • Buildings that were damaged during clashes between forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Free Syrian Army fighters, near the Sayeda Zainab area of Damascus, May 29, 2013.
  • Relatives visit a grave at the Shi'ite fighters cemetery in Damascus, May 28, 2013.
  • Shi'ite fighters ride through the Sayeda Zainab area of Damascus with their weapons, May 28, 2013.
  • The inside of a damaged mosque in Dahra Abd Rabbo village, Aleppo, May 27, 2013.
  • U.S. Senator John McCain meets with U.S. troops in southern Turkey, May 27, 2013.  He also visited rebels inside Syria.  This picture was released on his Twitter account.
  • Syrians participate in the funeral prayer for Youssef Ghazi al-Sarmani, who was killed in fighting between rebel and government forces, May 27. The logo in red reads "Talbiseh".
  • A boy makes pastry at a shop in Darkush town, Idlib province, May 26, 2013.
  • A group of men smuggle diesel fuel from Syria to Turkey hoping to sell it at a higher price, across the Al-Assi River in Idlib, May 26, 2013.
  • Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad during clashes against Syrian rebels in Aleppo, May 26, 2013.
  • Supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who died in the Syrian conflict. The funeral took place in the Ouzai district in Beirut, May 26, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter feeds pigeons in Homs, May 26, 2013.

Yacoubian said one problem is that the fate of President Assad remains ambiguous.

“From the perspective of the United States, certainly the Syrian opposition and those allied with the Syrian opposition, Assad should have no role in where this transition goes,” said Yacoubian. “From the perspective of Russia in particular and certainly by extension one would say Iran and those that support the Assad regime, there is the notion that there should be some sort of role for Assad, that he would be part of a transition process: what happens and how things go, to be determined.”

Yacoubian said Assad’s future should be determined by the participants of a new conference, dubbed “Geneva 2.”

Questions remain

But there are other issues that need to be resolved before the conference even takes place.

One of those is who will represent the opposition, said Fawaz Gerges from the London School of Economics.

“Outside Syria, the political opposition is mainly represented by the Syrian National Council. Yet you have other oppositional groups based in Beirut, based in Paris, based in Cairo, who also claim to represent the Syrian people,” said Gerges. “So the political opposition outside Syria is fragmented, is very diverse - there is no unified political opposition outside Syria.”

Gerges said the armed opposition inside Syria is also fragmented and divided.

There are also the questions of who will represent the Assad government - and which regional powers would be invited.

“Also a question mark. And again, it’s understood that there is certainly to be a role for Turkey, for the Gulf nations that have played an important role in supporting the Syrian opposition and the armed groups, said Yacoubian. “The big question mark is whether or not Iran would participate. Russia is insisting that Iran should play a role. The United States is very reluctant to cede any sort of role to Iran in these talks.”

Russia said Tuesday that it is imperative that Iran be included, despite reservations from some Western nations.

Gerges said that for the conference to be effective, regional powers must participate.

“Russia said Iran must be represented at the conference," he said. "France said Iran cannot participate in the conference because Iran is a threat to regional stability. Well if Iran and Hezbollah are very important, how can you really have a conference without - or how can you exclude Iran which is a pivotal player?

Given the obstacles, many analysts are pessimistic about whether the conference will take place, and if it does, whether any agreement on Syria’s political future can be achieved. But as Mona Yacoubian said: “it is important to give diplomacy a chance.”

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs