UPDATE: While pessimistic in his report to the UNSC, Brahimi allowed a glimmer of hope to penetrate—saying, “All I can tell you is that the situation is indeed extremely difficult. There is a stalemate, there is no prospect today or tomorrow to move forward.”
But he added, “Now that I have found out a little bit more about what is happening in the country and the region, I think we will find an opening in the not-too-distant future. I refuse to believe that reasonable people do not see that you cannot go backward, that you cannot go back to the Syria of the past. I told everybody in Damascus and elsewhere that reform is not enough anymore, what is needed is change.”
EARLIER POST: Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran diplomat and former Algerian foreign minister who succeeded Kofi Annan as the UN’s Syria mediator, is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council today on the results of the first round of his talks, according to Al Arabiya. So far, a diplomatic solution to the civil war doesn’t look likely, but there are some promising signs. One is that in Damascus, a large group of representatives of the nonviolent opposition to President Assad’s government met to call for Assad to step down. As The New York Times reports:
The meeting, in a Damascus hotel tightly guarded by government security agents, brought together representatives of about 20 domestic opposition groups, including leftists and longtime dissidents who have struggled to stay relevant as the uprising has become a war.
It’s a similar meeting to the ones that took place at the start of the anti-Assad uprising in 2011, when left-leaning dissidents and nationalists gathered to oppose Assad. At the time, they were allowed to do so, yet they received little or no encouragement from the United States and France, which seemed more concerned about supporting what turned out to be an armed rebellion.
What’s interesting about the Damascus gathering is that it seems, according to the Times, that it was tolerated by one wing of the Assad regime and opposed by another. In addition, it appears that Russia pressed Assad to allow the gathering. Far better for Syria if folks such as these were thrust forward to manage a transition, guided by the UN, than the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated Free Syrian Army. Reports the Times:
“There is no clear position from the Assad regime,” said one of the organizers, who requested anonymity to avoid further antagonizing the government. “There are hard-liners within the government who refused the conference, and want to embarrass it,” he said, referring to the arrests. He suggested that Russia, which has faced intense pressure from Western nations to drop its support for Mr. Assad, had pushed the Syrian government to allow the conference.
In a showy move, the FSA claims to have set up operating bases inside Syria, just across the border from Turkey. No mystery what they want: a Benghazi-style protected area under the umbrella of NATO. That’s what neoconservatives have called for since earlier this year, as evidenced by a July 24 letter signed by sixty-four neocons and fellow travelers to President Obama. So far, wisely, Obama has avoided getting involved so deeply, though the CIA is facilitating the shipment of weapons to Syrian rebels.
The Damascus opposition gathering, some of whose members met Brahimi during a recent visit, called for a truce and a peaceful solution. Brahimi, for his part, has called on all parties to halt the supply of weapons to parties in the civil war, which presumably means not only Iran and Russia, who back Assad, but the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, too. (And Iraq, which is quietly allowing Iranian supplies to reach Syria via truck and air.)
Last week, Brahimi told Al Jazeera:
The situation is getting worse and it is a huge threat for the region. These kind of conflicts cannot be bottled up within one country, they will invariably spill over, they already have with these hundreds of thousands of refugees that are destabilizing or threatening to destabilize neighboring countries.… The point I am making as seriously, strongly as I can is that the situation is very bad and worsening, it’s not improving. Syrians on both sides say from time to time, we are going to win very soon or in three months, two months.… I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think any side is winning now or any time in the future.