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Before boots on the ground, give Syria dialogue a last chance

By Maria Dubovikova for Al-Arabiya News –
The Syrian civil war has reportedly already claimed more than 200,000 lives. But it could have been stopped before the bloodshed began if international players had taken a more adequate stance than that inspired by Libya (that now appears to be in complete collapse).

I believe it could have been stopped by the United Nation’s blue berets from the outset. But recent history shows that countries seem to have preferred wasting millions of dollars on international law-violating interventions, supporting the apparently “right” rebels, instead of investing in the U.N.. They could have made the U.N. more effective, returning it back to its now apparently forgotten international peacekeeping and peace enforcement roles under its original international mandate.

Boots on the ground
Instead while providing different sides with lethal aid, members of the international community seem to find it possible to claim that they want to see the conflict settled as soon as possible. No conflict can be settled like this, if the only goal is to fight until the last survivor.

At the moment this devastating fratricidal war has been dramatically aggravated by the spread of the ISIS. International coalition airstrikes do not appear to be effective – nor does the position taken. Instead it leads to a complete collapse and gridlock of the situation, where a full scale international war on ISIS with thousands boots on the ground would seem to be the only option for the world.

Free debate
But it’s not too late, there is one more attempt to solve this problem being undertaken, an initiative that was first announced in August 2014. The proposal was an inter-Syrian meeting, revealed by Abbas Habib of the Council of the Syrian Arab Tribes. He said at the time that the meeting in Moscow would be a preliminary conference – a kind of consultative meeting, to lay the ground for the further debate to be continued in Damascus.

The task of the forum, according to Mr Habib, was to unite all sides – and so this Russian initiative was accepted. Moscow will now provide Syrians with the groundings to launch a free debate and to help find a way out of the current situation.

The new inter-Syrian meeting between the opposition groups and Syrian leaders will last four days – from January 26 to 29. The first two days are reserved for a free debate between the representatives of the Syrian opposition. The following two days they will be joined by representatives of the Damascus regime.

Internal discussion
The only foreign representative present at the meeting, in the role of moderator, will be Dr Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, internationally recognized and respected expert and (scientist)-orientalist.

It’s not clear yet who will arrive to represent the opposition, or the Syrian regime. According to the latest news several opposition groups have already rejected Moscow’s invitation to attend. The reasons for the refusal, they say, are a mistrust of Russia – which is seen as a supporter of the Damascus regime – absence of preconditions (including President Assad’s resignation) and the lack of a concrete agenda.

International backing
It is true – the agenda is not fixed. There are no preconditions. The discussion is supposed to be completely free. This format of the meeting is not meant to substitute the Geneva format.

This summit can be a springboard for the new round of Geneva talks. The Geneva format is a dispensable element in efforts to end the conflict, as the Syrian civil war has become an international matter, with international players clashing over how best to deal with the situation. A consensus is needed – not only on the internal level, but also on an international one. And international players should be the guarantor of the achieved decisions if any is reached.

The format chosen is unprecedented. It limits the discussion to the internal level, isolating it from any external political pressure. This is supposed to be a meeting of the sons of Syria about their motherland and its fate.

All Syrians have but one goal and dream – a stable and prosperous motherland

The Syrian conflict should be settled by the Syrians, who should decide their own destiny. No one knows Syria and its internal problems better than the Syrians do.

Syrians will live in, and rebuild their country once the crisis is over – not Americans, the French, British, Russians or Iranians. The interests of all Syrians should be respected.

The issue should not just be about how to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. A lot of ordinary Syrian people support him. Like it or not, we need to take their views into account. If they are ignored, there won’t be a national dialogue and the situation will dramatically collapse to the point of no-return.

There is no wonder the first two days have been –in my view – wisely reserved exclusively for opposition talks. The opposition forces and their supporters are not a single and united force.

Common ground
Not being united and having different understandings and perceptions means Syria’s opposition has to build a common ground for further talks and debates with governmental representatives. Then it might be possible for a new round of Geneva talks, and further steps towards the construction of a transitional government of national unity.

But we have no idea how members of the opposition are perceived by rebel groups, or if the fighters will take a direction to stop the battle.

It is clear that transition is the only way to save what is left of Syria, and not to let the country break into pieces and be swallowed up by the ISIS. Any strike or external military intervention will lead to a complete disaster, with the destruction of infrastructure and will ease ISIS’ push deeper into Syrian territories.

Defeat ISIS
But Syria’s national unity and the creation of a united Syrian front against the ISIS could be a true game-changer in the current situation.

It should be said that all allegations of war crimes committed by all sides of the civil war should be investigated internationally. And those who are culpable should be prosecuted in a strict conformity with international law.

But the key thing that matters now is the success of the upcoming meeting, even though the chances of this are extremely weak. Then Geneva-III could potentially be a success, because if the sides demonstrate the ability to talk and to hear each other (this was not demonstrated during the previous UN-backed meetings) that would give a sign that Syria has a chance to survive. That would mean the ISIS could be defeated.

All Syrians have but one goal and dream – a stable and prosperous motherland. All they need to achieve this, is to talk and to listen to each other’s views. After all these years there is just one way to stop the civil war: weapons must be put down and the people must speak.

__________
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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