A Syrian soldier, who has defected to join the Free Syrian Army. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Prospects for a peaceful settlement of the civil war in Syria are dim, despite the peace conference expected to take place next month in Geneva, jointly sponsored by the United States and Russia. It’s unclear, yet, whether either side—the Syrian government or the rebels—will participate, though both are under great pressure from their respective patrons. If the conference fails, President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and the Russian leaders, Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, will have egg on their faces. Worse, of course, the killing will continue.
This week, Kerry will meet with the troublesome and fractious opposition movement in Jordan. His job there will be to persuade the rebels not to boycott the conference. That task could, conceivably, have the happy effect of splitting the opposition into moderate and radical factions—but just as well it could result in the opposition as a whole deciding not to talk to the government of President Assad. However, if the Syrian government agrees to take part, under pressure from Moscow, and the rebels don’t, it will be very, very difficult for the United States to continue supporting the rebels, at least in their present form.
As The New York Times says, in an editorial today:
[Kerry] will need to do a better job of clarifying the American vision, and organizing the allies, than Washington has done so far. The opposition forces are scheduled to meet in Istanbul on Thursday, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo. For the opposition to boycott the conference would hand a significant propaganda victory to Mr. Assad.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, it appears that the Syrian government is making significant progress, bolstered by arms from Russia and Iran and taking advantage, perhaps, of disarray among the opposition. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the battle for Qusayr, a small city with strategic importance between the Lebanese border and Homs, Syria, could be a “turning point” in the war, tipping the balance in Assad’s favor. It says:
The bloody battle over the city of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, has the potential to transform Syria’s conflict, say fighters, diplomats and analysts. A government victory there could give the regime of President Bashar al-Assad a corridor of territory connecting Damascus to Syria’s pro-Assad coastline and to Lebanese territory controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. This would split rebel forces into fragmented strongholds.