UN and Arab special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is in Paris awaiting Damascus’ approval to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He does not want to repeat his previous experience, when he waited for four days before Assad received him.
Unlike his previous missions, Brahimi is going to Damascus with a political offer that is based on the American-Russian convergence of last week’s Geneva meetings, which were attended by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, US Assistant State William Burns and the US ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford.
According to a European diplomatic source, Brahimi will ask Assad to nominate the ministers that will represent the regime in the transitional government, which will include representatives from both the regime and the opposition, as stipulated in the Geneva Accord, for which the Syrian government immediately declared its support when it was announced.
If Brahimi meets with the Syrian regime, it will indicate that the latter has agreed to examine ways to implement the agreement for the first time since it was announced on June 30, which would be a political breakthrough. The European diplomatic source said that neither the Russians nor the Americans suggested transferring the Syrian president’s powers to Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa. Rather, there are efforts convince the opposition to name the transitional government’s prime minister.
A prominent Syrian dissident said that the identity of the transitional prime minister depends on the political and military developments on the ground. If the regime remains strong, the prime minister would likely be Hatham al-Mannaa or Hassan Abdul Azim. If the regime gets weaker, then the chances of people like Riad Hjab or Riad Seif would improve.
Despite the media and psychological war, the Syrian president still controls Damascus, its countryside and large parts of the central and southern regions. By using air power, he successfully prevented the opposition from fully controlling the north and still controls the major city centers.
To minimize their losses and concentrate on the cities and strategic areas, the Syrian army is preparing to withdraw from the rural areas in the coming days.
The Syrian dissident says that if there continues to be chaos, then more than one government could form: a Salafist government, a government grouping the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and a government for the regime. He said that another option is also possible. It would be a compromise option and involve selecting neutral personalities, of which there are plenty in Syria.
After Brahimi meets with Assad, he is expected to meet with representatives of the National Coalition, the SNC, the National Coordinating Body, the Syrian Democratic Forum and the Movement for Building the State. Brahimi started these meetings in Paris a few days ago and he is trying to get the opposition to nominate their candidates for the transitional government.
Brahimi will likely face difficulty convincing the SNC and the National Coalition to name their candidates because they are refusing to participate in a government that includes Assad, even if the latter has no significant power. The opposition, specifically the SNC and the National Coalition, hold that the time for politics has passed, that its military has achieved great victories and now dominates large areas, particularly in the north, and that a decisive military victory is now possible after the arms flow from Qatar and Saudi Arabia has allowed the opposition to start the battle for Damascus. They think that there is no need to give Assad concessions that will allow him to stay in power.
The fact that some opposition forces are defending the presence of Salafist jihadists and al-Qaeda among the ranks of the Syrian revolution — despite American criticism — indicates that the opposition is now refusing any political solution. They think that a military victory would abrogate the need for the Geneva Accord, or any other accord, especially as Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist groups do not have a vision for the Syrian revolution except that the Syrian regime should be removed and Syria transformed into an Islamic state. Sources close to Brahimi estimate that Jabhat al-Nusra has 5,000 fighters who are playing a key combat role that surpasses the FSA’s role in some fronts, especially in Aleppo and Idlib.
Brahimi is expected to return to Geneva to give a full assessment to his American and Russian partners. The Europeans were excluded from negotiations on Syria as soon as the Russians and Americans moved closer to make a political breakthrough.
In the meantime, Brahimi does not seem very optimistic. Even though he keeps trying, he considers his chance of success to be no more than 10%.
Last October, the UN started studying the feasibility of sending international forces to Syria in the event of a cease-fire.
In New York last Friday, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous met with the representatives of 20 countries involved in different UN peacekeeping missions.
A diplomatic source said that the Arab states did not participate in the meeting and that the UN is discussing the formation of an international force of 4,000 to 10,000 soldiers to be sent to Syria, but not before Brahimi makes progress toward a solution.
In other news, Syrian fighter jets got involved in the battle going on in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp between Palestinian factions and many fighters.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said to Entertainment RFI and TV-5/Le Monde, “I think that Bashar al-Assad’s end is near. You have seen that the Russians also expect that, even if it was controversial.” He called the air raid on the Yarmouk refugee camp “disgraceful.”