By Ollie Ward
Geneva II Talks Begin
The Geneva II peace talks are underway and judging by the fact that Assad’s regime and the opposition barely spoke directly to each other and the city of Homs remains besieged, expectations seem understandingly low.
To describe the meeting as a shambles would be pessimistic, but not overly so. The effort to end the three year war nearly collapsed at the first hurdle when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran to the table, a firm backer of the Syrian regime. An Iranian representative is almost an essential guest at this dark and terrifying ordeal in Switzerland as the conflict is not an isolated war which Iran can watch from over the garden fence while it enjoys a cold beer and a barbecue, they are actively involved both politically and have a vested interest in the humanitarian fallout from the bloody war.
Tehran still refuse to acknowledge the first Geneva conference back in 2012 which demanded a transitional power sharing agreement with Assad and the rebels. On top of this, 2.5 million people have been displaced by the civil war and it falls on neighbouring countries to provide sanctuary. While Iran does have a useful buffer zone to the west, Iraq has already absorbed more than 200,000 people fleeing Syria and Lebanon over one million. Iran can’t ignore this issue forever.
Iran is not the only one to blame. The western world is still yet to pay attention. The west have so far only taken in 10,000 refugees and 18 of the EU states, Britain included, have taken none.
The release of photos smuggled out of Syria of systematic killing and torture is nothing new. Assad’s father employed similar systems for combating dissidents in his regime, yet the rest of the world has remained uninterested. Without international pressure Assad has no reason to end the mass killings, especially when it still has backing from Russia and Iran and its making progress against the rebel groups. This indicates that before any peace talks between the Syrian regime and its opposition can occur, talks need to happen within the UN between Europe, the US and Russia. Without a change of heart from the Kremlin, Assad retains the upper hand and peace negotiations are unlikely to bear much fruit.
The stronger the regime gets and the less imminent the topple of Assad becomes, the more radicalised the opposition groups get. The BBC reports that many of the armed groups have become Islamist in nature and are fighting for Sharia law, which only widens the Gulf between a Syrian National Coalition and an Islamist Front. This has also allowed a sectarian war to begin to occur in Lebanon, where the Syrian refugees make up nearly a quarter of the population and suicide bombings and assassinations are becoming a very real phenomenon.
If handled correctly, these talks, while unlikely to bring peace to the region, can have a beneficial effect on the way the world perceives the conflict. The US and Russia have become alarmed by the destabilising effect the civil war has had on the region and the fostering of terrorism in the Middle East. A humanitarian arrangement has been reached allowing safe passage for the civilians of Homs and allowing vital supplies into the city. If a ceasefire is to be made, however, significant talks need to be held between external nations including Iran, Russia and the US, along with several groups within Syria, all competing for control of the region.
Whatever the outcome, the road will not be a short one and so far the end is not within sight.