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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Geneva II Middle East peace conference


The Geneva II Middle East peace conference[1][2][3] (or Geneva II) is a proposed UN backed international conference[4] to take place in Geneva with the aim to end the Syrian civil war by bringing together the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition to discuss[5] a transitional government for Syria with full executive powers.[6] It is pursued by UN peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in close cooperation with the US and Russia.[5] The UN has set 22 January 2014 as the date for the peace talks.

Background

June 2012 ‘Action group’ Geneva

An “action group” conference (now referred to as Geneva I) was held on Saturday 30 June 2012, in Geneva, initiated by the then UN peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan,[5] and attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, a representative of China, British Foreign Secretary Hague, and Kofi Annan.[6] Mr Annan said, the conference agreed on the need for a “transitional government body with full executive powers” which could include members of the present Syrian government and of the opposition.[6] William Hague said that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, France and the UK – supported Mr Annan’s efforts.[6] Clinton however suggested that Syrian President Assad could, in such transitional government, not remain in power, which immediately was contradicted by Lavrov.[6]

Brahimi Initiative

After this June 2012 meeting, Lakhdar Brahimi, in August 2012 appointed as the new UN peace envoy to Syria, started, in close cooperation with the Russian Federation and the United States,[5] preparing an international conference on ending Syria’s civil war[4] by bringing two Syrian delegations, of regime and opposition, together,[5] which conference was dubbed ‘Geneva 2’[8] or ‘Geneva II’.[5]

Aims

The objectives of the Geneva II conference are to bring one delegation representing the Syrian regime and one representing the Syrian opposition together to discuss how to implement the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 (a “transitional government”), end the war, and start a process toward a New Syrian republic.[5] Beginning November 2013 however, disagreements existed between the US and Russia about the agenda of the intended conference.[9]

Obstacles before ‘Geneva II’

Brahimi said in August 2013 that the main problem was getting the different groups in Syria and their different international supporters to accept the "very principle of a political solution". He said that this has been the UN approach to the Syrian civil war since the war began. Brahimi said that his
main message to the Syrian parties ... [is] that there is no military solution to this devastating conflict. Only a political solution will put an end to it. And the basis for such a solution does exist. It is the Communiqué issued on 30 June 2012, after the meeting, in Geneva, of the so called 'Action Group' of countries convened at the initiative of Kofi Annan.[5]
On 26 July 2013, the Syrian National Coalition, an important coalition of Syrian opposition groups, suggested not to partake in a ‘Geneva II’ peace conference as long as Assad does not vow on beforehand to stay out of the envisioned transitional government.[10] In October 2013 the Syrian National Coalition was internally divided on whether or not partaking in the ‘Geneva II’ conference. The largest group in the coalition said, not to participate in the conference, because the Syrian regime continues its violence against civilians.[11]
The Syrian government said on 3 November 2013, that comments of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that day (a handover of power by Syrian President Assad “can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future”) could cause the peace talks to fail, because they "are a flagrant violation of Syrian affairs and an aggression against the Syrian people's right to decide their future."[12]On 20 December 2013, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party requested a delegation to the conference, citing the fact that Kurdish forces had created a semi-Autonomous state in northern Syria.[13]

Issues at the (wished) conference

Attitudes by Syrian groups and by the US and Russia towards the role or absence of president Bashar al-Assad in a transition period differ and were expected by The Economist, May 2013, to constitute a major issue of the conference.[14]

Participants

The list of the participant countries of the Geneva II conference on Syria was determined by Lakhdar Brahimi on 20 December 2013. Potential participant Iran was vetoed by the United States and the Free Syrian Army.

Syrian participation

On 22 July 2013 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Syrian government is ready to engage in the conference without preconditions.[16]On 25 November 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that on the planned conference on 22 January 2014, members of the Syrian regime and of the opposition will be present.[17] He did not make clear, which opposition groups will be represented.[17] Hassan Abboud, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, has said that it not be bound by the outcome of the talks.[18]

Non-Syrian participation

In May 2013, Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Khazaee said that Iran would decide on its participation in the conference, depending "on the details that we will consider when we receive them."[19]
Diplomats of the US and Russia were begin November 2013 “quarreling” since months, about which countries will be welcome at the conference. Russia would like to have Iran invited, the US opposes an Iranian presence at the conference.[9]

Proposed dates

The conference was initially proposed for the end of May 2013, with participation expected by representatives of the Syrian National Coalition, the Bashar al-Assad government of Syria, the United States and Russia, and coordination by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN peace envoy for Syria.[20] In late June, the United States (US) postponed the conference.[8]In mid-August 2013, UN diplomats tentatively proposed mid-October 2013 for the conference date.[21]On 5 November 2013, Brahimi said that US and Russia could not reach an agreement over the date for the conference, and further deliberation over the pursued conference would take place 25 November 2013.[9] As a November date could not be agreed, Brahimi still hoped to get a meeting before the end of 2013.[22]On 14 November, it was reported the conference may take place beginning 12 December 2013.[1] The report allegedly quoted a message from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to his French counterpart Laurent Fabius. On 25 November 2013, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced that the conference would be held on 22 January 2014.[23]

Venue

In August 2013, Lakhdar Brahimi moved his headquarters from Cairo to Geneva in order to prepare for the conference.[4]

Preparations

Communication channels

Brahimi stated in 2013 that his office kept "communication channels open" with the al-Assad government through an office in Damascus, with the civilian and armed opposition groups in Syria and in exile, and with "various groups representing civil society, including women, both inside and outside Syria". He said that the UN is encouraging all groups to guarantee the participation of women and other components of "civil society" in the peace and reconstruction process.[5]

Pre-conference meetings

In early August 2013, meetings took place in Paris between US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and Syrian opposition members to plan for the conference and discuss the chances of reaching a consensual political balance for all involved groups to meet together for negotiations.[21] Elements of a "shared political platform" to be discussed by a pre-Geneva-II meeting of up to 25 members of various opposition groups included a "civil democratic transitional period" that would begin with the conference, preparing drafts of documents with constitutional principles and transitional justice for a transitional period, reorganisation of security and military forces, cooperation rather than competition between opposition groups, post-war reconstruction, media policy, and the balance between difference opposition civilian and military components.[21]

A pre-Geneva-II meeting in The Hague by senior US and Russian diplomats was planned for 28 August 2013 but postponed by the US Department of State because of "ongoing consultations" relating to the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons attacks. A Department of State representative stated that the US "would work with Russia to reschedule [the] planned meeting and that the alleged chemical weapons attack demonstrated the need for a 'comprehensive and durable political solution'."[24]

Reactions

Ahmed Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, stated in late July 2013 that he expected the conference to take place, doubted its success in ending the conflict, and hoped for a transitional government to end the civil war.[25]

 

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