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article imageOp-Ed: Everyone at Syrian peace talks except Syrians

By Ken Hanly     Oct 31, 2015 in Politics
Vienna - Talks in Vienna designed to find a way of bringing peace to Syria included the United States, Russia, and even Iran and more than a dozen other countries. However, there were many of the most significant parties to the conflict absent from the meetings.
Given that the meeting is about finding a solution to the civil war in Syria, one would think that there would be political representatives from the Assad government and the various rebel groups, and also some of the military representatives from each side. Apparently, neither the Assad government nor the rebels have sent representatives or been invited to attend.
The Syrian government has not yet issued a statement on the meetings. George Sabra, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, said failure to invite Syrians showed a "lack of seriousness" in the talks. He said his coalition had not been invited to the talks. The Syrian National Coalition(SNC) is a western supported political opposition group representing rebels opposing Assad. A number of countries recognize the group as the representatives of the Syrian people rather than the Assad regime. The Free Syrian Army is associated with the SNC. Some Islamist groups reject the SNC as being subservient to foreign interests. There is often a disconnect between the political opposition that have attended talks in the past and commanders and leaders of groups on the ground in Syria.
So far in the Vienna meetings, those assembled agreed to launch a new peace effort that would involve the Syrian government and opposition groups. They made no mention of the status of President Bashar Assad in all of this. Opposition groups such as the SNC have consistently made it a condition of participating in peace talks that Assad would go: "The SNC consider the departure of Assad a crucial condition for the success of any political settlement and that he (Assad)or those whose hands were stained in blood would have no role in any phase transitional or permanent,"
Given the frosty relationships between the US and Russia over the Ukraine, the atmosphere between Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were cordial at the final press conference. Both Saudi Arabia and the US turned down the volume on their demands that Assad must leave and quickly. For their part, neither Iran nor Russia ruled out his leaving. These developments are not likely to encourage rebels groups to join talks. At the end of the meetings those assembled agreed to a 9-point plan as described in the appended video, with new meetings to be held in two weeks to further the process. One of the nine points notes that the government will be secular. This in itself will be sufficient to ensure that most Islamists will stay away from the talks as they insist on a government run on Islamic principles. The Islamist groups are the most powerful among those fighting against Assad.
In many respects, the Syrian conflict is a proxy war with Russia and its allies supporting Assad and thus coming into conflict with the US and its allies. Of late, the Russians have changed the balance of power by their air strikes, arms, and support for Syrian army offensives. The US has announced it is sending special forces to help rebel groups fight the Islamic State. If foreign players decide that the war for them is too costly and impossible to win this may encourage them to try and find a political solution. For Europe, the war is producing a flood of refugees that are creating many problems within the EU. Without foreign support many rebel military units will find any future victory over Assad is unlikely so they might be willing to come to the bargaining table.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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