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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora