Why Bashar al-Assad Is Still Sleeping Comfortably

Article Summary
The Geneva conference, held at the end of June for the first time, included two “real” friends of Syria: Russia and China, writes Omer Taspinar. The only thing the meeting produced was an ineffectual and vague agreement that the US and Russia can interpret as they choose.  

What should be done in Syria? The meeting held in Geneva last weekend [June 30 to July 1] between a number of international delegations and foreign ministers tried to find solutions to the issue, which has started to make many feel helpless and pessimistic. The Geneva meeting was different than the “Friends of Syria” summits, which frequently met but inevitably became increasingly ineffectual. This time, two true friends of the Syrian regime, Russia and China, participated in the meeting, which was convened by Special UN and Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan. Of course, when you say “true friend of the regime,” the first name that comes to mind is Iran. Although both Russia and China would have preferred to see Iran at the table, a US veto barred the country from attending the meeting.

As far as I know, Kofi Annan was also in favor of Iran’s participation, but Washington got its way in the end.

What has emerged from Geneva then?  In short, a text based on sensitive concessions and minimum common denominators, which Russia and US could interpret as they wished. The fundamental obstacle is the contrast between Russia’s determination to preserve the sovereignty of the Damascus regime the US desire for an immediate regime change. What could  the minimum common denominators be in such a case? 

First, nobody favors a military intervention. Second, both Russia and the US agree that the status quo is not sustainable and that there must be a “political transition.” As such, the common denominator they found at Geneva was a “political transition to be decided by Syrians.” The first question that comes to mind now is, “Which Syrians are going to govern this political transition?”

The text that the Geneva meeting produced answers this question in a way that won’t be easy to implement: “The transitional governing body shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent” between the current government and the opposition. Russia believes it has obtained a scenario where [Syrian President Bashar] Assad could remain in power with just a few concessions.

On the other hand, the US hopes that the “mutual consent” concept will enable the opposition to firmly exclude Assad from the process, allowing the transition to be under a new government. Thus, the US and Russia are interpreting the results of the Geneva meeting in any way they deem fit

However, the real question is whether the Geneva meeting or its outcomes have any significance for the reality of the Syrian situation.

Does Assad really care what the US and Russia decide? The Damascus regime knows one thing very well: the US does not want a military operation in Syria.  The Obama administration has no intention of pursuing a policy that will affect oil prices and create serious problems with Iran on the eve of the November elections. That is why Assad considers Iran’s support the most important element of his survival.

As long as Tehran supports Damascus and the US remains unwilling to pursue a military operation, Assad will continue doing what he is doing. That is why the results of the Geneva meeting mean nothing to Damascus. Assad, confident that Turkey will be opposed by Iran if it engages with his regime, must be sleeping comfortably.

Found in: russia, geneva conference, geneva, friends of syria, china, bashar al-assad, agreement

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