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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More