Is there a Syrian Track II?

After the failure of the Geneva negotiations, another secret negotiating channel is being tested.

al-monitor United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi talks to the media after briefing a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at UN headquarters in New York, March 13, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Mike Segar.

Topics covered

syrian opposition, syria, geneva, election, bashar al-assad

Apr 23, 2014

Negotiations between the Syrian government and the internal and external oppositions did not stop, and the political process is still going on, albeit slowly.

Although the basic framework for these negotiations, which saw two rounds in January and February, has miserably failed to make any progress in the political process, some attempts to hold a dialogue between the two sides did not completely break down. But they have a less ambitious agenda than stopping the violence, fighting terrorism and forming an interim government.

According to intersecting information, a few weeks ago the two sides have started testing the so-called “Track II” negotiations, away from the Geneva I agenda, without the participation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, and under the sponsorship of European power centers that wish to facilitate the settlement of armed conflicts. The meetings were held in those European countries.

A Track II meeting will take place in Geneva this weekend. That meeting falls within the framework of the parallel strategy to Geneva I. Fifteen figures will participate in the meeting, some of them close to the Syrian government; others are former officials, civil society leaders and oppositionists from home and abroad.

Although the UN is not directly sponsoring Track II, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will meet tomorrow [April 24] with a delegation of those working on Track II, which is still being tested. The meeting will be held Saturday and Sunday.

According to Syrian sources, participating in the meeting are several delegations of various compositions. Some are from the political and civil opposition inside Syria, while some belong to the opposition blocs abroad that were not allowed to participate in the Geneva negotiations and excluded from the National Coalition delegation [to Geneva]. These delegations are participating in those meetings, while figures whp left the coalition are waiting to know what will happen to Track II before deciding whether to join.

Participating in the meetings are figures close to the Syrian government, officials and former ministers in the Syrian governments and some officers. A diplomatic source said that communications between the parties is expanding to include, in an upcoming meeting, some figures who are close to the armed opposition, especially representatives of the Islamic Front, led by Zahran Alloush, who is working through the recently elected political body of the coalition, through his representative Mohammad Khair al-Wazir.

A main Syrian opposition figure in Geneva said that Track II and the secret negotiations are necessary at this stage after the public negotiations and their pre-selected program hardened the positions of all parties. He added that there are still attempts to hold a dialogue between those close to the Syrian government and the opposition. They have been held in public in Cordoba twice in a row earlier this year and last year under the auspices of the Spanish Foreign Ministry. He said that public meetings between the two parties will not succeed before a secret preliminary dialogue provides a serious base for the issues that can be agreed upon.

Track II is not under Russian or American care and has not yet reached the stage of real negotiations. It is limited to only dialogue and to exploring common points that may turn Track II into a full-fledged negotiating track.

According to a Syrian source, the dialogue is taking place at the level of figures of the second rank, of figures close to the Syrian government and some oppositionists, in order to move the negotiations on local cease-fires to the national level. So far, there have been 48 truces or local settlements between the Syrian army and the armed opposition, especially in East and West Ghouta and in rural Damascus.

Some are trying to find a broad political framework for cease-fire agreements and to resolve the situation of armed men in order to have a broader and more comprehensive basis for a cease-fire than the current localized agreements.

On the other hand, the head of the National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, visited Jiddah, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. They “reviewed the latest developments on the Syrian scene and the efforts to end the suffering of the Syrian people.”

The Saudi Press Agency quoted Muqrin assuring Jarba about “the kingdom’s solid position about the necessity of putting an end to all types of killing and starvation suffered by the Syrian people.”

The coalition’s statement read: “During the meeting between Jarba and Salman, ways to support the rebels at all levels were discussed, due to the enormity of the disaster suffered by the Syrian people from the terror of [President Bashar] al-Assad’s regime.”

Jarba said, “The Assad regime is still insisting on destroying all Syrian land by using internationally banned weapons, particularly chemical weapons, as it did a few days ago in Syrian regions. … Assad, by declaring an electoral farce for a new illegitimate [presidential] term, has closed the door on any political solution. And this is well understood by the international community.”

The Syrian authorities have announced that the window for submitting nominations for the presidential election has opened and will remain so for the last 10 days of April. The Syrian authorities have set the presidential election for June 3.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Mohammed Ballout