Analysis: Path to Syria peace talks littered with obstacles
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris on May 27, 2013.
May 31st, 2013
04:30 PM ET

Analysis: Path to Syria peace talks littered with obstacles

By Elise Labott, reporting from Jerusalem

American, Russian and U.N. officials are set to meet next week in Geneva, Switzerland, to prepare for peace talks on Syria. Those talks would bring together officials from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and members of the Syrian opposition to discuss a political transition.

Proposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, they are tentatively scheduled for mid-June. But unresolved disagreements among members of the international community and continued disputes within the Syrian opposition cast doubt on whether the talks can be held so soon, or at all.

Russia is proving to be one of the primary spoilers of its own diplomatic initiative. Even as Kerry flew home from Paris after meeting with Lavrov to discuss plans for the Geneva conference, Moscow announced its decision to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles, and their delivery could improve al-Assad's chances of retaining power.

At best, a move of weapons to the regime to further its violence against the Syrian people casts doubt on Russia's stated intention of finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Moscow has argued that sending the advanced weaponry to Syria would deter "hotheads interested in military intervention in the conflict."

"We are against foreign military intervention in Syria, so to the extent those systems, if deployed in Syria, can deter foreign military intervention, I think it will help focus minds on a political settlement," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour this week.

Churkin said the missiles are part of a contract with Syria that preceded the conflict and are "specifically designed not to be a part of any kind of a domestic confrontation or domestic civil war."

At the State Department on Friday, Kerry urged Russia not to deliver the weapons "in the interest of making this peace process work."

"Whether it's an old contract or not, it has a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region, and it does put Israel at risk," Kerry said. "And it is not - in our judgment - responsible because of the size of the weapon, the nature of the weapon and what it does to the region in terms of Israel's security."

The Russian announcement came on the heels of a decision by the European Union that it would lift the arms embargo on the Syrian rebels, a move pushed by Britain and France. European diplomats, however, said they did not expect any European shipment of arms to Syrian rebels within the next several months.

The move, the diplomats said, was meant to increase pressure on al-Assad to negotiate at the Geneva talks, making clear to both the regime and Russia that the EU would not allow the rebels to be defeated. But the Russian decision to go ahead with sophisticated weapons transfers suggest the European plan may have backfired and could see the conflict escalate even further.

Washington and Moscow still have additional differences about Geneva. One of the main sticking points is whether Iran should attend. Russia is pushing for Iranian participation. Lavrov, after meeting with Kerry, suggested as much when he said the guest list "could be expanded to involve all key outside players who have influence on the situation on the ground."

But the United States has argued that Iranian military support for the Syrian regime and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah make Iran more part of the problem with ending the conflict than part of the solution. The United States estimates thousands of Hezbollah fighters are fighting for al-Assad and maintains Iran has sent members of its Quds force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, to help the regime.

On Friday, Kerry said, "The Iranians have said they welcome this conference. Well if they do, they need to show it in other ways than sending their forces across the border, being the only nation in the world to have their fighters on the ground in an organized state-supported way."

Even if the hosts of the proposed Geneva talks could get on the same page, it remains to be seen whether Syria's fractious opposition groups can overcome their persistent divisions. The regime already said it would attend the proposed talks. But the Syrian National Coalition, the main rebel umbrella group, said it would not participate in the talks in Geneva until the international community intervened to end the siege in Qusayr, a town in Homs province near the Lebanese border. The coalition has insisted that al-Assad must step down from power and be excluded from the political process.

The National Coalition wrapped up six days of talks in Istanbul, Turkey, unable to unite disparate elements of the opposition. The group could not agree on including more moderates into its ranks, frustrating the United States, European and Arab nations seeking to curb the rising influence of Islamists.

When asked when the Geneva conference could reasonably take place, a senior Obama administration official said, "It all depends on whether there is an opposition delegation to attend."

Both the international and internal divisions point to a drawn-out political process, one that al-Assad could exploit militarily with Russian support. The Syrian conflict, now in its 26th month, is likely to drag on - which is why Fred Hof, who recently stepped down as the State Department's coordinator planning for a Syrian transition, warned against clinging exclusively to open-ended peace talks.

"For a long time after Vietnam, our government was paralyzed with doubt; we are seeing that process again in the wake of the catastrophic war in Iraq," Hof told a conference Wednesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "We have a government that believes that whatever we do, it can only make things worse. What this ignores is how bad things are now."

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Jacob

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    November 4, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  2. Vic

    The government of Syria has been asking to meet the opposition since day one, but Qatar and Saudi's won't let them. They started this to remove Assad beacuse he refused their gas pipeline. The intent was never to create democracy. Assad in many interviews said he wanted to meet them and start the path to change. Some opposition met him and they were assasinated by the rebels. If it is left to Syrians and Syrians only this will be over, but not not becuase too much blood has been spilled. I think the government must win the armed portion first and then have free election in 2014 to determine future of Syria. The election must include everyone including Assad. That is the only way we will know what is the will of the majority.

    June 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • StaCalif

      "Hold free elections"! Absurd idea. Every country where we insisted on free elections is what today?
      What middle east country is better off today because of "free elections"? Voters vote under threat and have no knowledge of who or what they are voting for! Voters are "told" how to vote!
      Example: Gaza, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Iraq – all currently ruled by "freely elected" governments! All are failing states! So let's hold an election in Syria! Is Jordan next? "Free elections" solve nothing!

      June 5, 2013 at 7:25 am | Reply
  3. Socrates

    The best way to achieve peace in Syria is not to arm the terrorists and the government at the same time. The day will come when they will not have any bullet left and they will have to give peace a chance.

    June 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Reply
    • Shaqir

      That is the best outcome: While it will be brutal and destructive, both sides must fight to exhaustion before peace is possible. Shy of that, both sides will dream of the victory they may have obtained before imposition of artificial peace. Ego and pride must be brushed from the table so that only cold reality remains.

      June 3, 2013 at 9:39 am | Reply
  4. francois

    the salafi rebels fighting in syria have just been caught in possession of SARIN CHEMICAL WEAPONS

    http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/comments/page-21/

    June 2, 2013 at 2:51 am | Reply
    • Jomama

      We should support no one let them fight themselves, that way there will be less of them. It sounds mean but if we help they will fight anyway its cheaper and more economical to stay out.

      June 2, 2013 at 7:52 am | Reply
      • Thinker23

        Who don't help them to fight each other, Jomama? This way there will be even less of them...

        June 2, 2013 at 8:00 am |
      • Thinker23

        WHY not help them to fight each other, Jomama (sorry for the typo in the earlier version...)?

        June 2, 2013 at 8:02 am |
      • Jomama

        The weapons we give them have a way of showing up elsewhere.

        June 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  5. lance

    the u.s. has wasted 770 million dollars officially on syria so far to help refugees, when is the u.s. goverment going to focus on our economy and unemployment ? this country borrows from communist china and is in 16 trillion dollars in debt but always seems to have the cash to wast on some 3rd world countrys "B.S." problems. the u.s. has enough of its own troubles to spend on.

    June 1, 2013 at 11:44 am | Reply
    • Karl

      Well stated, lance. How true that is!

      June 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
    • francois

      http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/comments/page-21/

      salafi rebels caught possessing chemical weapons!!!

      June 2, 2013 at 2:52 am | Reply
      • USMC1371

        No one cares let them kill themselves if they choose too. If the so called rebels have enough they will go home.

        June 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • The VOICE of Reason

      WASTED? Saving people's lives is NEVER wasted money. Grow up and be proud to be an American. Stop thinking about foreign aide as "wasted" money. It only shows how little you understand about what makes America great worldwide. WE PAY PEOPLE TO LIKE US. What part of that of you not understand?>

      June 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Reply
      • StanCalif

        Yes, we "pay people to like us"! Yet we have no real friends! This policy doesn't work.
        Pakistan hid Bin Laden for how long? They are supposed to be our "friends". Karsai, in Afghanistan, takes our "friendship" money and puts it in his own pocket! We dumped billions into Iraq, now Iran is their best friend! Dick Cheney never got any Iraqi oil, oil he claimed would make the Iraq campaign "revenue neutral"! Ha, ha, ha! What wonderful "friends" we have bought!
        Countries who want our "friendship" should be paying us! Make the checks payable to the US Treasury, not to individuals in Congress!

        June 5, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  6. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    June 1, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
    • Jomama

      (CNN) - A helicopter carrying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an emergency landing Sunday after it malfunctioned, state-run Press TV reported. Almost hahahaha

      June 2, 2013 at 7:55 am | Reply
      • basedonfact

        I still like Ed SHcultz's nickname for him the best. Mahmoud I'm a dinner jacket

        June 4, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  7. Joe M.

    The biggest obstacle of all to this peace plan is Obama's idiotic insistence the Bashar al-Assad must step down. Who the H is this Obama to make such an outrageous demand and who the H is he to decide Syria's future? Would we Americans like it if some foreign dictator tried to tell us who to elect for President and Congress? I say, we need a hands off approach to Syria!

    May 31, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • Justice

      hell yes!

      May 31, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Makes to much sence which means President Obama won't do that.

      May 31, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Reply
    • Karl

      Good posting, Joe M. I couldn't agree more!

      June 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Reply

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