Op-Ed: Geneva II talks to resolve Syrian civil war may not even begin

Posted Jan 4, 2014 by Ken Hanly
A second round of talks, Geneva II, to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war is scheduled to begin on January 22. However, it is not clear who if anyone will attend from the Syrian opposition.
Ahmed Jarba  head of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group  gestures during an interview wi...
Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Bayan Palace in Kuwait December 8, 2013
With permission by Reuters / Jassim Mohammed
The Syrian National Council, a large component of the Syrian National Coalition, the western-back umbrella political group representing the opposition, has announced that it will not attend the talks. However it has long held this position. The Council has 22 out of 60 seats in the larger Syrian National Coalition: The Syrian National Council (SNC)[1] is recognized by 7 UN members, the Republic of Kosovo and the European Union as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the midst of the Syrian civil war, with three of those being permanent members of the Security Council. One country, Libya, recognises the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria.
There is to be a meeting of the Syrian National Coalition to vote on whether it will attend the Geneva II talks but to pass a vote to attend must have a two-thirds majority or 81 out of 120 delegates. There has been considerable pressure from the west on both the Council and the Coalition to attend the meeting. When Council member Hisham Marwah was asked if he thought the decision not to attend would affect the support provided the Council by the international community he said:"The international community supports us to represent our people, not to do what they like, This is very important, that we are doing what the Syrian people want, and we can't move away from this principle. When we go to Geneva II without a chance to achieve Geneva I statement we will achieve nothing. The people will not accept us being there without achieving a peaceful solution to our crisis."
Spain is to hold a mini-summit of Syrian opposition groups on January 9th and 10th in Cordoba. The meetings are to help the various opposition groups co-ordinate strategies ahead of the January 22 talks. However, unless a significant number of the opposition groups intend to attend this seems rather pointless, except perhaps to explain why they refuse to attend.
When setting the date for the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed optimism about the talks: “At long last, and for the first time, the Syrian Government and opposition will meet at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield.This is a mission of hope. We go with a clear understanding: The Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria. I expect all partners and parties to demonstrate their support for constructive negotiations, All must show vision and leadership..."
At the present juncture however the talks may not even start let alone reach a resolution. As Kirk Sowell, based in Amman, who heads a political risk firm put it: “The opposition is now pretty much united against Geneva II. The Syrian Opposition Coalition had indicated some willingness to participate conditionally, but it looks like they have realized that is a losing game. No one representing any real fighting force will be there. The core Islamist force, the newly formed Islamic Front, certainly will not participate. They’d probably only be open to a conference framed around how a transfer of power is carried out, and not one involving Assad in any way.”
Unless the west is able to convince at least the western-backed opposition to unite and attend, the project of the talks even beginning is now in question.