Nasser al-Kidwa, the deputy joint Arab League-UN Envoy to Syria, admitted in his first interview since taking office that what was currently obstructing a political solution in Syria was the fact that all parties felt that they would achieve a military victory on the ground. He described criticism directed at the plan of Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as "nonsense." He said Brahimi's plan is the ideal solution to the Syrian crisis.
Kidwa stressed that Arab states are not capable of finding a solution, and that the situation in Syria has become a point of regional and international contention. He emphasized that the conflict will not be resolved by a military fight, and that a political solution requires US-Russian consensus.
El-Khabar: The Syrian opposition has accused Brahimi's plan of extending the life of the crisis, while the Syrian government believes that the joint UN Arab envoy is no longer neutral. Do you think that Brahimi can succeed as a mediator, given that he is rejected by both sides?
Kidwa: In fact, this statement is illogical and doesn't have any credibility. Some parties leveled the same accusations against the first joint envoy, Kofi Annan, that they are now leveling against Brahimi and the mission in general. As I've mentioned before, these statements are "nonsense." I believe that these parties had hoped for an armed foreign intervention. Thus, I have been keen on any efforts that could be made to reach a political solution aimed at halting the bloodshed and achieving the hopes and aspirations of the Syrian people; any effort that can delay, or prevent, military intervention.
Thus, anyone who has the interests of the Syrian people in mind, anyone who wants a peaceful solution to this bloody conflict, which has caused enormous pain to the Syrian people, must support the political and diplomatic efforts being made by the international community, particularly the efforts of Brahimi.
Regarding statements made by the regime specifically, I also think that these can be refuted. These statements come as a result of Brahimi's insistence that the regime give further clarification about what is going on, and about the government's primary positions. The government has insisted on refusing to take rational positions and is opposed to the reasonable demands proposed by Brahimi. This, however, is not surprising. We are in a time of conflict; it is not surprising that both sides are attacking the mediator. Those who want to reach a peaceful solution, particularly those parties that — unfortunately — think a military solution is possible, must realize [that this is wrong]. We feel it is clear that this is not possible. In all cases, this will cause more damage, pain and destruction for Syria and its people.
El-Khabar: Do you expect Brahimi's mission to be successful, given that on every occasion he has said that he is embarrassed to talk about the tragic situation in Syria?
Kidwa: This statement is true, the situation in Syria is very bad. As to whether or not the joint UN envoy will succeed, God alone knows. We all [are] doing everything we can, but in the end it is up to the Syrian people. They will take the first and last decision in this regard; they will be the ones to impose their position on all parties in the end.
El-Khabar: Brahimi has said that a solution in Syria will only be achieved through US-Russian agreement. Does this mean that Brahimi's mission has come to an end, or transformed into a mission aimed at bringing these two countries together, after failing to convince the opposition and the Syrian regime to stop the bloodshed?
Kidwa: Naturally, Brahimi has said that a solution in Syria will only be achieved through a US-Russian agreement. Thus, the most important step towards finding a political solution lies in an understanding and agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation. This is natural, given that these parties are the two largest powers in the world. Thus, they are the parties most capable of influencing the course of events, perhaps as a result of the special attention [they have given] to the conflict in Syria.
This, however, does not in any way undermine the importance of Syrian parties as stakeholders, and also regional countries. Yet the problem is that these countries, as a result of their positions and their involvement in the conflict, are now limited in their ability to push for a political solution. However, they are still the parties that are affected, and we are fully committed to working with them and coming to an understanding with them. And we must not ever forget that, first and foremost, it's up to the Syrian parties alone.
The only possible way [to solve the conflict] is to start with an understanding between the US and Russia, followed by understandings between the five permanent members of the Security Council, regional countries and so forth. Then, once again, it's up to the Syrian parties, which will negotiate and discuss all of the details that must be implemented for a political solution. Throughout this process, we still believe that the joint envoy and his team can play an important and positive role in facilitating understanding and agreement, and eventually in implementing such a solution.
El-Khabar: But Russia's position is clear: direct support for Assad.
Kidwa: They say otherwise. The Russian side has always said that the most important thing for them is not the future of the regime and the president, but rather Syria's future. They are the ones saying this, not us. They, however, also insist on a political solution, along with negotiations and efforts to stop the bloodshed. They emphasize that we must avoid the chaos that could happen in Syria if the situation continues as it is. Naturally, Russia also has personal interests, and is protecting other parties. Once again I stress that it is very important to work with Russia and the US, along with all member of the Security Council, in order to find a solution to this crisis.
El-Khabar: What is your reading of the statements made by ministers of the Assad government inviting the opposition to dialogue? In your opinion, how serious are these are these calls?
Kidwa: Contradictory statements have been made in this regard. Of course, one minister said that he was ready to participate in dialogue with the opposition in any location he could travel to, and then reversed this decision, saying that dialogue must occur in Damascus. There were also statements made by ministers saying that they were open to dialogue with armed groups. They then denied these statements, saying that they would only participate in dialogue with these groups if they disarmed.
Then do not forget that there are those who say that dialogue must occur in Damascus. This position only further complicates matters and has many meanings. It's not just about the place, it's about controlling the dialogue. It would mean that the government is regulating the dialogue, and would imply many things that would not be accepted by the Syrian opposition and several other regional and international parties. The United Nations and the joint special envoy have recently stressed that they are ready to facilitate and organize this dialogue, if the parties reach an agreement and show the necessary signs that they are ready for such a move. Dialogue must occur at some point, but I think that it is necessary to be well prepared for such dialogue and understandings.
El-Khabar: Do you not think that the Arab states are able to find a solution, through putting pressure on the opposition to agree to dialogue with the regime without preconditions?
Kidwa: I do not think this is true. Perhaps the opposite it true. Which Arab countries are capable of pressuring the opposition?
El-Khabar: [Perhaps] those countries that have recognized the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people?
Kidwa: I think that perhaps these countries are not enthusiastic about dialogue. The party that has courageously spoken about dialogue is the head of the opposition coalition, Moaz al-Khatib. I think that his initiative came as a surprise to all parties. We support this position, even if the entire regime does not respond.
Even if this initiative does not achieve any real process on the ground, this does not negate its importance. Moreover, as I see it, there are no parties calling for dialogue without preconditions. Even Russia and the US talk about dialogue on the basis of the Geneva Accords. Many of the nations that have been keen on dialogue, in actuality aren't enthusiastic about it. Perhaps Iran has called for dialogue without preconditions, however, I think that it is ready to considered balanced positions in this regard.
El-Khabar: Do you think that Iran's position has changed after it participated in the Islamic Summit held recently in Cairo?
Kidwa: Iran has its own interests and its own considerations in Syria and the region, and is keen on protecting these interests. We, for our part, have spoken with Iranian officials on several occasions. I believe that Iranian officials are dealing with the joint envoy in a positive and pleasant manner. Although there are significant differences between Iran's position and that of many countries throughout the region and the world, we will continue to try [to reach a consensus], and we will see what will come of it. Everything is variable, but the constant is that every state wants to maintain its own interests.
El-Khabar: Why has the internal opposition been discredited, despite the fact that it has multiple times called for a dialogue to find a solution to end the war in Syria?
Kidwa: Of course the Syrian opposition, by virtue of the situation that has prevailed in Syria for many years, is an opposition that suffers from some problems. These include, for example, the presence of strong deeply-rooted parties, and these things are not a result of the conditions that existed. This situation naturally complicates matters. Yet, in spite of that, there are a number of opposition forces that have worked in earnest to achieve their goals. Moreover, there are a number of armed groups that include different spectrums of the Syrian people. They reflect the varying nature of political positions that exist in Syria.
There is an organized opposition abroad within the framework of the Syrian National Coalition, which says it has positive and strong relationships with many of the armed groups, particularly the Joint High Command and the General Staff. Of course there are also some parties complaining that they have not been allowed to play their natural role. These things are normal in such a conflict; but things are changing. It is important that the Syrian opposition remains united to the highest degree possible. It is important that they maintain this unity, despite their differences.
El-Khabar: On the other hand, there is an ongoing dispute and conflict between the opposition in Syria and abroad ...
Kidwa: I am not certain of the validity of these claims. There has been some coordination between the opposition at home and abroad; they have met from time to time and there are no lines that completely divide them. I maintain that the political role must remain in the hands of politicians, not the military. The military, however, is now paying the price for its struggle and making more sacrifices. Yet for things to go well, political representation must remain in the hands of politicians. While the military can participate in the decision-making process, especially when it comes to issues that directly affect them, they should not disturb the correct way forward. Namely, it is necessary that politicians be given the role of leadership.
El-Khabar: What is the truth regarding the extremist organizations operating in Syria, which the Syrian regime and Washington have spoken of? Do you believe that they could be an obstacle standing in the way of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria?
Kidwa: The truth is we all hear about them and see them on television. It is no secret that there are extremist militant groups operating in Syria. It is also no secret that some members of these groups are not Syrian; they are foreigners, from the region and further afield.
El-Khabar: Which organization are you referring to in particular, and what are its motives?
Kidwa: I am not very knowledgeable on this matter, and the motivations of these actors is another story. There are ideological motives, plans and projects — whether in the region or at the international level. This is well known and it is not a secret, they exist in Syria. But I believe that, in general, the decision is in the hands of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition. They will not allow any party to control the situation. They are able to impose what they want in the end, because this is their country. Perhaps these groups may cause some problems and difficulties, but I do not think they are able to prevent positive political development, if the main parties decide to put an end to this situation.
El-Khabar: Assad has accused Britain of supporting terrorists (armed opposition groups) and arming them. In your view, is talk about arming the opposition, at this time, detrimental to all efforts to reach a solution in Syria?
Kidwa: What Assad and British officials have said is public and well-known, there is no need for me to enter into this debate. On the issue of armament, we in the office of the joint UN envoy were always in support of a political solution. We believe that there is no place for a military solution. If we continue in this direction, the price would be too high for Syria and the Syrian people. Our position is clear and has not changed.
El-Khabar: Do you think that Western and Arab countries involved in the conflict in Syria are truly working to reach a solution in the country?
Kidwa: I feel that there has been wide international and regional interest in the situation in Syria. Perhaps the Syrian people would have been in a better position had there been slightly less interest on the part of some parties.
El-Khabar: Who are these parties you are talking about?
Kidwa: The reader will understand this, particularly given that Syria has turned into a regional battlefield. It is complicated in all aspects, and cannot be reduced to one party.
El-Khabar: What are the possible scenarios for resolving the conflict in Syria? You have always called for a political solution, while, on the other hand, the opposition has stressed the need for a military solution?
Kidwa: I believe that the opposition is now saying something else. There is, for example, the statement issued by the general assembly of the Syrian National Coalition. This was a clear statement committed to a political solution. It is true that [the coalition] has put certain limitations on a solution, but nevertheless they are committed to such a solution. They stress that any initiative for a political solution must come within the framework of international treaties. They also demand armament, hoping that this would ensure a change in the balance of power on the ground. Now, however, the coalition wants a political solution and has been demanding this.
El-Khabar: What are your comments on the coalition's demand to form a temporary transitional government, and Khatib's visit to northern Syria?
Kidwa: This is up to the Syrians to decide. We are against rushing to take positions. We must carefully examine any step, and be sure that it protects public interests and comes in the context of achieving a settlement and a political solution.
El-Khabar: How do you view Algeria's position regarding the crisis?
Kidwa: I think that Algeria's position is reasonable and positive. In any case, each state takes the position that suits them best.
El-Khabar: There has been much talk recently that Assad's end is imminent. Do you expect this, especially given that he says he intents to run in the upcoming presidential elections?
Kidwa: There has been talk of this in the past, and I do not know if it is accurate or not. Once again, in all honesty, we want to see a political solution that responds to the aspirations of the Syrian people for life, equality and the realization of a new Syria. This therefore involves serious comprehensive changes, as well as protecting all Syrians and providing them with their full rights, without bias. We hope that all parties realize the importance of this. We hope that they make the necessary sacrifices to open the way toward the true political settlement that we have been talking about.
El-Khabar: Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution two years ago and its transformation into a war between the two sides, we have not found anything positive or any changes at the political level. Why?
Kidwa: This is true, there has not been any materialization on the ground. The tragedy has been going on for two years now. We have to work harder and exert greater effort to bring an end to this crisis as soon as possible, and to work with all parties. By the nature of our work, we are trying to push the Security Council to intervene and carry out its duties. We are trying to work in a joint manner with the United Nations organization. Yet of course, in the end, the decision is not for us. We are not a military party that can intervene with violent action. We need a political solution, and we hope that we will succeed in reaching it.
El-Khabar: The opposition claims that you are not neutral, and has criticized your refusal to send a detailed report of the situation on the ground in Syria to the Security Council.
Kidwa: We have sent highly detailed information to explain the situation in Syria in a sufficient manner. Others within the UN have done the same, such as the Commission of Inquiry formed by the Human Rights Council and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This is in addition to many others, who all gave detailed information to the Security Council. I believe that the Security Council's inability to take action can no longer be attributed to a lack of information. The opposition’s claims are not true, particularly given that both Russia and China have used their right to veto three times. The stance of these two countries is clear and coherent, and some view it as correct and logical.
El-Khabar: Do you mean that there will not be a solution to the crisis in the midst of all this data?
Kidwa: Rapprochement is important. The main parties must reach an understanding and common ground on a position.
El-Khabar: I sense pessimism in your voice.
Kidwa: I'm not a pessimist, but rather pained by the current situation. It is such a bad situation that is causes much pain. Yet there is still optimism that a political solution will be reached. Until then, we will continue with our work.
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