News / Middle East

    Syria Envoy in Damascus, but Prospects for Peace Talks Dim

    Reuters
    U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (R) and Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrive to a hotel surrounded by security, Oct. 28, 2013 in Damascus, Syria.U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (R) and Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrive to a hotel surrounded by security, Oct. 28, 2013 in Damascus, Syria.
    x
    U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (R) and Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrive to a hotel surrounded by security, Oct. 28, 2013 in Damascus, Syria.
    U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (R) and Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrive to a hotel surrounded by security, Oct. 28, 2013 in Damascus, Syria.
    International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held talks in Damascus on Monday at the end of a Middle East tour to promote a Syrian peace conference, but regional tensions have cast a pall over his mission.
     
    Brahimi visited capitals across the Middle East to discuss plans for the “Geneva 2” meeting, tentatively set for Nov. 23, to try to halt more than 2-1/2 years of bloodshed in Syria.
     
    But opposition forces have not yet decided whether they will attend and Gulf Arab states backing the Syrian rebels have soured on the talks after Brahimi said on Saturday that their rival Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main regional ally, should join the international conference.
     
    Brahimi met Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus but there was no word on whether Assad would see him.
     
    A senior Turkish official said the envoy has not pushed for any deal on his tour, remaining in “listening and watching mode” and leaving active negotiating to Moscow and Washington.
     
    Riyadh and Tehran see the struggle in Syria as determining which of them ends up with greater influence in the Arab world.
     
    Saudi Arabia threatened to distance itself from the United States last week over its perceived inaction on Syria and its renewed efforts at reconciliation with Iran.
     
    The diplomatic wrangling has made the Syrian opposition feel weaker and even more reluctant to consider attending Geneva 2.
     
    “All these issues are getting tangled up into the other. Like the Saudis, we are very afraid that the United States' other interests in Iran will come at the cost of the Syrian cause,” said Samir Nashar, an executive member of the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition's umbrella body abroad.
     
    “If you ask me, this meeting won't happen on Nov. 23. It won't happen ever.”

    Nasrallah says Saudis 'obstructing'
     
    Assad's Lebanese ally Hezbollah urged the Syrian rebels, foreign fighters and their international backers to embrace a political solution and pursue dialog without preconditions.
     
    “You knew what you wanted, you planned well, you used all available resources, and you failed,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech in which he singled out Saudi Arabia as an obstacle to a political solution.
     
    “We can't keep the region ablaze because one country is angry or is acting differently,” he said, accusing the kingdom of seeking “to obstruct any political dialog and postpone Geneva 2.”
     
    Syria's political opposition in exile is facing mounting pressure from fighters on the ground to reject any negotiations that would not require Assad's ouster.
     
    Many of Syria's main rebel brigades on Saturday rejected any negotiations not based on Assad's removal and said they would charge anyone who attended them with treason.
     
    Assad and Iran, however, have said they will only go to talks that set no preconditions.
     
    It is not clear how the United States and Russia, co-sponsors of the talks, can reconcile the conflicting demands of the various parties to enable to conference to convene.
     
    The United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a main arms supplier to Assad, agreed in May to try to arrange the Geneva 2 talks to build on an earlier meeting in the Swiss city last year that called for political transition in Syria, without defining what the Syrian president's role might be.
     
    “The problem is what all the different sides think they're going to get out of Geneva. The opposition and the Gulf see the goal of it as removing Assad. Of course Assad, especially as he's in a position of power right now, won't accept that,” said Chris Phillips, a Middle East lecturer at University of London.
     
    Phillips said the United States is now taking a “realist stance” on dealing with Assad, despite its Gulf allies' efforts to draw it into active military support for the rebels.
     
    Violent stalemate
     
    Arab League foreign ministers will meet on Sunday to discuss Syria, officials said. Driven mainly by Gulf countries, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership and has sought to put pressure on Assad for trying to crush the uprising against him.
     
    A Gulf diplomatic source in Cairo expressed frustration that Brahimi had not taken a firmer line over the crisis.
     
    “I had hoped that Brahimi would be bold and say there was no solution but for Assad to leave, because Assad's exit from power and his trial along with the pillars of his regime who killed more than 100,000 Syria, is the only solution to the Syrian crisis,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
     
    Some Saudi officials said last week they would now act independently of the United States to arm the rebels - another bad sign for talks that aim to end a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, forced millions from their homes and created refugee and security headaches for Syria's neighbors.
     
    Assad's forces have been advancing slowly around the capital Damascus and in parts of central Syria, but overall the conflict remains a violent stalemate that costs at least 100 lives a day.
     
    Despite his relative strength at the moment, Assad has said conditions are not conducive to peace talks, citing Saudi and U.S. support for “terrorists”, and arguing that the Syrian National Coalition represents foreign powers, not Syrians.
     
    His opponents are fighting side-battles among themselves, with moderate Islamist groups battling al-Qaida-linked rebel groups in the north, much of which is under opposition control.
     
    Further east, Kurdish militias have seized more territory to consolidate control of a region they want to run independently of both the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels and Assad.
     
    The opposition coalition says it can only attend talks if either the U.N. Security Council, or Washington and Moscow, state publicly that Assad would step down in any transition.
     
    “That would be the encouraging sign we are looking for,” said a Syrian opposition source. “Otherwise, when the National Coalition has its planned meeting on Nov. 9, the vote on Geneva is going to be no.”

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.