SYRIAN FM ‘WEST TALKS TO DAMASCUS ABOUT ISLAMIST REBELS’ – BBC NEWS
Will the negotiations be a major breakthrough in resolving the conflict??
The United States and its allies held direct talks with representatives of radical Syrian Islamist groups, according to The Wall Street Journal. According to the newspaper, the negotiations were organized by Qatar and took place in Ankara, they were also attended by representatives of the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia..
US Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Wednesday that Washington “maintains contact with the general population of Syria and opposition political and military leaders, including various Islamist groups.” She stressed that the United States does not come into contact with terrorists and groups deemed to be terrorist.
“There is no military solution [in this situation], and in reality there are some groups in the opposition, in respect of which we must find ways to force them to accept the need for a political solution,” said Marie Harf..
The decision of Western states to meet with the Syrian Islamists was made because the moderate opposition, which was supported by the United States and Great Britain, began to lose its influence, according to The Wall Street Journal..
The material also reports that the West and its allies in the region hope that some of the Islamists will agree to an alliance with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition. Thus, according to the allies, a counterbalance could be created to groups associated with al-Qaida, which control parts of the Syrian territory..
A preliminary agreement on the meeting was reached in late October – early November 2013 by Qatar and the Free Syrian Army, on the one hand, and representatives of a number of Islamist groups, on the other. The negotiations themselves took place about a week after receiving the consent of their participants to the meeting..
During the talks held in Ankara, Western allies tried to persuade the Islamists to moderate criticism of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and its leader Salim Idriss, a former general of the government forces, according to press reports. In turn, the radicals, even before the meeting, demanded that the military council provide them with more active support, in particular, in the form of arms supplies..
According to US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, the United States “cooperates with General Idriss”.
“Our assistance goes to the Supreme Military Council and General Idriss,” Harf said. – It does not suit other groups, but we must work with all groups to involve them in the political process. This is exactly what is happening at the moment “.
The British edition of The Telegraph also notes that the creation and armament of a new radical front was sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Earlier during the talks, Idriss said about the need to prevent the strengthening of Al-Qaeda in Syrian territory and suggested that in the event of the overthrow of Assad, the rebels would have to unite with the remnants of the government army..
Tony Badran, an expert at the Washington Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, believes that negotiations with the Islamists are intended solely to neutralize possible obstacles to the Geneva-2 peace conference on Syria, scheduled for January.
“By concluding an agreement with Bashar al-Assad through Russia, the Obama administration essentially eliminated the option of military intervention in the Syrian conflict, thereby losing its leverage over the situation,” Badran said in an interview with the Voice of America Russian Service. – Now the United States can only rely on the goodwill of Vladimir Putin – who does not necessarily share with the United States and its allies the position that Bashar al-Assad should leave the presidency. The purpose of the dialogue with the Islamists is the same – to prevent them from disrupting the Geneva conference, and at the same time to neutralize Saudi Arabia, which sponsors them, by making them part of the process. “.
“The Islamists can ask for as many weapons as they want,” the expert continued, “the US is unlikely to agree to give it to them. Apparently, the United States has only one interest in Syria – the successful implementation of the agreement on the destruction of chemical weapons. As part of this agreement, Assad has already, in fact, received at least six months as a legitimate representative of the Syrian government. Geneva-2 may well end with a temporary agreement, as in the negotiations with Iran – and then this process can be dragged out indefinitely – with the declaration of a truce, the provision of humanitarian aid to refugees and so on. At the same time, Assad can dictate both the pace and conditions of the process “.
Are the first direct talks between the West and the radical Syrian opposition a major breakthrough? Alexander Shumilin, director of the Center for Analysis of Middle East Conflicts, answered this question in a commentary to the Russian service of the Voice of America..
“The challenge was to establish contacts with Islamist organizations that have recently strayed too far away from the main partners of the West, who are among the opposition, among the Free Syrian Army,” he says. – They moved more towards the radicals, including those organizations that are associated with Al Qaeda. And to stop this process of radicalization of relatively moderate Syrian Islamist organizations was the task of this meeting “.
Alexander Shumilin noted that earlier there was no need for such meetings, since these groups “showed more moderation and were in cooperation with the basic structures of the opposition.”.
“But after the“ chemical ”deal, they felt betrayed by America and rushed towards the radicals, the expert continued. “By this, they made the political landscape much more complicated: firstly, they significantly weakened the opposition and, secondly, they did not simplify the general situation in the opposition environment at all. They also provided an opportunity for Assad to continue his offensive actions “.
According to Shumilin, it is still difficult to judge the success of the negotiations..
“But their fact means a certain discrediting of the opposition, when the process of radicalization of the moderate part of the Islamists began. Trying to neutralize them, to attract them under a common “umbrella”, the Western countries are trying to normalize the situation in the opposition camp and try to reduce the protests of Islamists against the Geneva-2 talks, ”summed up Alexander Shumilin.
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