Syria peace talks must prioritize ceasefire for humanitarian purposes
Peace talks aimed at ending Syria’s civil war have started in Geneva under the mediation of the United Nations, marking the first such talks in about two years.
Negotiators will discuss how to implement a road map to establish a new Syrian government that will involve formation of a transitional regime by July and an election in the middle of next year.
But a bumpy road is ahead due to the deep-seated mutual distrust between the administration of President Bashar Assad and antigovernment forces. The confrontation between Russia, which supports the Assad regime, and the United States and other countries, which oppose it, casts a shadow over prospects for the talks. It is essential for the international community to support efforts to pressure the parties involved in the conflict to make concessions.
About 400,000 people are reportedly starving in Syria because food and commodity supplies were cut off due to a siege by hostile forces. Top priority should be given to realizing a ceasefire for humanitarian purposes so food and medicine can be delivered.
The road map was agreed on last November by the United States, Russia and other countries concerned. This is the result of efforts by the international community to curb the influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group and stem the outflow of refugees.
What is worrying is that the parties concerned lack the will to implement the road map.
The Assad regime stepped up air raids against antigovernment forces immediately before the start of peace talks to recapture many strongholds. This was apparently intended to have an advantage in the negotiations.
The rebel groups’ call for a halt to the airstrikes was natural, but the talks are unlikely to go anywhere as long as they stick to their refusal to enter into substantive negotiations until the air raids cease.
Persistent efforts vital
Representatives from the Assad regime and the opposition camp do not sit at the same negotiation table, making it inevitable for the U.N. special envoy to go back and forth between the two parties to find points of compromise. Such a situation symbolizes the danger that the talks may collapse. It is indispensable for both sides to hold negotiations tenaciously to ensure results.
If even a partial truce can be agreed upon, it will contribute to building confidence between the two sides. This will also make it possible for the United States and other countries to concentrate on operations to eradicate ISIL.
ISIL has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s terrorist attack in the suburbs of Damascus that killed more than 70 people. There is a possibility the attack was intended to throw a wrench into the peace talks. Efforts must be made to minimize the impact of the attack.
Under the road map, how to deal with Assad will be shelved. Washington has virtually changed its demand for his immediate exit in an agonizing decision aimed at dealing with the increasing threat of ISIL.
Assad, who has ordered the use of chemical weapons in the civil war, cannot be allowed to remain in power, but there seems to be no suitable candidate to succeed him, which is a serious situation.
Lessons must be learned from the series of Arab Spring popular uprisings five years ago, in which long-term autocratic regimes were toppled in Libya and Yemen, producing a power vacuum and triggering civil wars and a spate of terrorism. The United States, Russia and other countries concerned need to cooperate in drawing up a blueprint for establishment of a stable government in Syria.
Turkey, which has seen its relations with Russia plummet, claims that Russian military aircraft intruded into its airspace again, thereby heightening tensions between the two countries. This is not the time for the two countries to engage in a struggle for regional hegemony.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 2, 2016)