Brahimi Takes the Pulse of Damascus and Moscow

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The results of Syrian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's mission are uncertain, writes Mohammed Ballout, and the chances that President Bashar al-Assad will step down from power appear slim. 

"Hell" is Syria’s only remaining option.

An Arab source told As-Safir that the Damascus-Moscow-Cairo visit by international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi did not advance Brahimi's mission one step. It merely saved it from oblivion.

During his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi only checked whether Assad is ready to accept the Russian-American understanding that was the product of meetings in Geneva and Dublin. Brahimi sought to test Assad's willingness to engage in a cumulative political process, starting with a transitional government and a transfer of power that led him out of the Syrian political landscape. This political process also entails other dossiers that remain under the table, such as the case of an international tribunal, which will remain deferred until the necessary political, international and humanitarian conditions are suitable for it to be put forth. Addressing all the dossiers at once would threaten the prospects of a political settlement — which is inherently fragile — and would be considered diplomatic suicide.

While Assad approved a transitional government with expanded powers, he required some time to study the other demands of the proposal so that he could provide clear responses to them.

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However, during this brief meeting with the head of the Syrian state, Brahimi failed to advance the core goal of the mission, which made Washington and Moscow agree to send Brahimi to Damascus. The goal of the mission was to obtain concessions on the part of Assad to grant the transitional government full powers in order to restructure the army and the security apparatus, which serve as the backbone of the Syrian regime. However, the president totally rejects this proposal.

Furthermore, Brahimi avoided talking to Assad about stepping down from power, or about the restructuring of the army and security apparatus. The international envoy did not approach this dossier with his Syrian host at any point during their meeting.

One Algerian diplomat made two suggestions to overcome the presidential impasse and to prevent Brahimi's mission from faltering as a result of banning Assad from taking part in the formation of a transitional period. The diplomat suggested that the mandate of the president will be reduced and early elections will be held in the coming months. The second proposal is to turn Syria into a parliamentary regime in order to reduce the president's powers from the outside, after he has been clinging to them in order to remain in office. Assad rejected Brahimi's first idea to hold early elections in the coming months rather than in the spring of 2014, as was the original proposal.

Brahimi sought to reduce Assad's mandate by one full year so as to create favorable conditions for the cessation of hostilities and the deployment of UN forces to monitor a long-term cease-fire. The army would also be pushed to retreat to their barracks, the detainees will be released and the terms that were agreed to in the Geneva Initiative will be implemented. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad informed Moscow of this proposal when he headed to Russia ahead of Brahimi so that Russia would be in the loop about Assad's stance toward the envoy's demands.

In Moscow, Brahimi has once again informed the Russian side that while the Syrian president approves of the formation of a transitional government, he totally rejects being banned from future presidential elections. Assad also agreed to transfer his powers, but the discussions with Brahimi did not go any deeper than this.

Brahimi was informed in Moscow and Damascus that the Syrian president intends to run for the spring 2014 presidential election. This means that none of the core demands he carried, which gave significance to his mission, have achieved any breakthroughs.

Since he left Moscow, Brahimi has been promoting his second idea to transform the system in Syria to a parliamentary one, the aim of which is to empty the presidential post and strip the president of his authorities, and to overcome the obstacle of Assad’s departure as of now. As a result, Assad’s tenure as president and his candidacy for the presidential election would be rendered insignificant.

However, Brahimi’s attempt has proven to be useless. It is not the jurisdiction of the transitional government to change the political system from an exclusively presidential one to a parliamentary government. But it is able to govern under a limited constitutional declaration, based on a presidential declaration to transfer powers. An elected Syrian constituent assembly would have the right to change the mechanisms of Syrian institutions or the current parliament.

Before the end of next month, the Russians, Americans and Brahimi will return to Geneva to conduct a joint evaluation of Brahimi’s visit to Damascus amid realities that have not changed. Assad will not depart in any transitional process, and he will not give up his powers to any transitional government without the following guarantees: to stay in office until the spring of 2014 and the right to participate in any election following the transitional period, regardless of who is leading it.

Brahimi warned in Cairo yesterday [Dec. 30] of “Somalization and hell” in Syria if a political solution to the crisis based on the Geneva Accord is not reached soon. He noted that he has “a proposal that could be adopted by the international community” to end the crisis, which “includes a cease-fire, the formation of a government with full powers and steps that would lead to presidential or parliamentary elections, most likely parliamentary elections since the Syrians will reject a presidential system.”

Regarding the opposition's insistence that Assad departs before it considers any solution to the crisis, Brahimi said that “The Syrian opposition has the right to demand the president’s departure sooner rather than later, but [the question is] how? They have been discussing it for over two years.”

In a press conference with Brahimi in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “There is a consensus that chances of reaching a political solution are still available.” He said, “Assad has repeatedly said that he does not intend to go anywhere and will remain in office until the end. It is not possible to change this situation.”

He added, “We believe that the opposition’s position that Assad's departure is the only thing that will allow the initiation of dialogue on the future of the country is a mistake, and even counterproductive. This precondition will only cost the lives of more Syrian citizens.”

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Found in: un, syrian, russian influence in syria, russian, moscow, damascus, assad
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