Geneva talks: Can de Mistura push Syria’s warring sides to end the crisis?

UN: next Syria peace talks on 20 February in Geneva

The UN special envoy for Syria asked both the opposition and regime delegations to cooperate to end the crisis, saying that the failure will only increase the toll of victims.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey said they were ready to help broker a Syria peace deal, and organized peace talks meeting in Kazakhstan on January 23.

The first day of the talks was focused on ways to strengthen the ceasefire. It ended with tension as both parts traded blames over truce breaches. In addition, the opposition refused to have direct negotiations with Assad regime.

The talks have ended with Russia, Turkey, and Iran making a joint statement about the consequences of the talks and agreeing on a mechanism to support a delicate ceasefire and to support a new round of peace talks in Geneva.

The second round of Astana talks was held in Kazakhstan’s capital on February 15-16. It didn’t have a final statement, but Turkey, Russia, and Iran issued a mutual agreement indicating that all sides have agreed “there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and it can only be solved through the diplomatic implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution Number 2254 in its entirety.”

The Syria peace talks had been planned to begin in Geneva on Feb. 8, but the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that he had decided to delay the UN-sponsored talks until February 23. in order to take advantage of the results of Astana talks.

However, many predicted the talks seems to be failing before they start as Assad regime kept breaching the so-called truce and killing more civilians while the global powers have low expectations for this meeting.

“Work together”

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, addressed the both delegations asking them to work together to help in ending the crisis in the country.

“I ask you to work together. I know it’s not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified,” de Mistura told the delegates sitting opposite each other on the stage of the U.N. assembly hall in Geneva.

Mistura will hold meetings with the delegations on Friday to establish a procedure for the talks, he told reporters after the opening session, adding it would be his “dream” to bring them back together for direct talks, but there was work to be done before that could happen.

De Mistura told the representatives of both delegations that they had a joint responsibility to end a conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

“The Syrian people desperately all want an end to this conflict and you all know it,” he said.

“You are the first ones to tell us it. They are waiting for a relief from their own suffering and dream of a new road out of this nightmare to a new and normal future in dignity.”

He said they would center on U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 which calls for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance.

He added that the shaky ceasefire brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran had opened a window of opportunity.

“The effort has jump-started the process … to see if there is a political road forward and we don’t want to miss this opportunity.”

“We do know what will happen if we fail once again – more deaths more suffering, more terrorism, more refugees.”

little hope for the talks

However, officials from the opposition delegation expressed little hope for the talks.

“When the adherence to the ceasefire is not there,” and when there are “games being played at the level of international terms of reference to the political transition and a constitution […] then the negotiations are not encouraging,” Yahya al-Aridi said.

“Things are getting complicated further and further, with conflicting agendas. Not only from the main two banks of the conflict but also within our bank,” he said.

“There are no solutions in sight now. The reality on the ground is getting worse,” Fares Bayoush, a Free Syrian Army commander, said. 

Omar Kouch, a Syrian analyst, said that while the presence of a ceasefire makes this round of talks markedly different, “there are no indications that the fourth Geneva talks will be serious about finding a solution”.

Kouch said the chances of reaching a solution are slim, citing the continued government offensives on several areas across Syria, the absence of the dominant Syrian Kurdish faction – the Democratic Unity Party (PYD) – at the negotiating table and major divisions within the opposition.

“As in every round of talks, we start with a lot of hope to find a solution, but then the talks are over and nothing is accomplished. In fact, things get worse,” he said. 

With both sides seemingly unwilling to make political concessions, it is unclear how the negotiations could bridge the divide and find a solution.

Still, the Syrian opposition is expected to press for the consolidation of the ceasefire, the release of prisoners, the lifting the blockades over besieged areas and securing a political transition from Assad’s government.

“The main thing is that there is no submission. We are trying very hard, to decrease the losses,” said Aridi.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.