Vienna Conference to end Syria’s endless agony

This article gives you an understanding of how perplex and deepened Syria Crisis is , and solutions from Global Interests in it. Stay tuned to Syria Crisis and World.


What’s the Vienna conference ?

  • The conference at Vienna on October 30, bringing together 17 states (China, Egypt, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US), ended with a nine-point joint communique.
  • The United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) were also represented at the conference.
  • This is the third such attempt to hold talks to find a way to bring to an end Syria’s complicated issues.

Historical Background

Previous two attempts, Geneva 1 (June 2012) and Geneva 2 (February 2014), can be correctly characterised as insincere and cynical theatre, for 4 reasons:

  • Iran, an important stakeholder, willing and able to frustrate any search for a political solution that excludes it, was not invited.
  • With the US-supported rebels given undue weightage, not all the opposition parties in Syria were invited.
  • Principal initiators, the US and Russia, more intent on scoring points over each other.
  • By inviting warring Syrian parties, including the Bashar al-Assad regime, their external supporters found it difficult to talk frankly among themselves.
  • The exclusion of Syria this time in Vienna is a wise step.

The highlights of the communique

  • Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character are fundamental, and imperative to promote all efforts to end the war.
  • The Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UNSC, must be defeated.
  • The UN is invited to convene a conference of representatives of the Syrian Government and the Opposition to start a political process leading to credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance followed by a new constitution, and an election under the UN supervision.
  • In parallel with political process, participants along with UN will explore modalities for a nationwide ceasefire to be effective.

What’s the principal bone of contention? Is it about Assad’s position?

  • Probably, it is the US, Saudi Arabia, and their allies who have given in.
  • Till now, they have been repeating that Assad is not part of the solution and that the political process cannot start without his leaving office.
  • After the Russian military intervention, Assad’s position, from a military point of view at least, has improved.
  • The changed US position is that Assad has to go, but not on day one the political process starts. The US has wisely changed its position.
  • It is rather naïve to say that if Assad steps down, Syria will rapidly see the end of the civil wars.


What has been discussed in Vienna ?

  • The participants at the conference were not willing to put the ceasefire as an immediate goal.
  • It should be noted that the US announced its plans to send Special Forces to Syria the day the conference started.
  • Further, the Saudi decision to send more and better weapons to rebels supported by it remains unchanged.
  • In short, it was far from a gathering of powers with common goals keen to work together to find solutions.

What about the Islamic State (IS) ?

  • It will not be invited to be part of the political process. Nor is it likely to agree to be part of the process even if invited.
  • Is it the intention of some of the participants, if not all, to reconcile Assad and all the non-IS rebels and thereafter put together a grand coalition against the IS?
  • How long will it take to put together such a coalition assuming that an attempt will be made?

Is there a shift in the US policy ?

  • For Obama, it was a painful decision to send Special Forces, “less than fifty”, to Syria.
  • Their mission is to “help coordinate local ground forces and coalition efforts”.
  • In other words, the Special Forces will not assist forces fighting Assad’s regime.
  • Obama has found it difficult to answer cogently his critics at home who fault him with a weak and incoherent policy on Syria.

Are there any concerns from Russia’s side ?

  • Surely, Russia has raised concerns about a ‘proxy war’ and urged closer consultations with the US to take care of deconfliction.
  • Looking ahead, if there is no settlement before the US presidential election due in a year’s time, Obama’s successor might step up the military involvement taking the US closer to a ‘proxy war’ with Russia.

Then, has Vienna reached to a conclusion?

  • In conclusion, the Vienna Conference could lead over time to a ceasefire between Assad and the non-IS rebels, but it is too soon to say that it will.
  • The key powers adding fuel to the fire of the multiple civil wars raging in Syria have yet to reach the conclusion that it is in their interest to stop doing that.
  • The conference might not have been held but for the Russian bombing campaign and the inundation of Europe by refugees.
  • The US policy towards Syria is slowly changing and it is difficult to say whether it will be dragged deeper into the quagmire that Syria is.

What is painfully clear is that we all are going to witness more killing, more refugees, and more talking, Isn’t it ? It is difficult, not to recall the Roman poet Ovid’s lines penned twenty centuries ago:

Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor
(I see better things and approve; I follow the worse)


Published with inputs from Arun
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