Collapse of Geneva Diplomacy: Syrian Conflict Proves Intractable for the West

Last week, the eighth round of negotiations on the settlement of the Syrian conflict took place in Geneva. As expected by many international observers, the participants of the consultations could not reach a compromise. Staffan De Mistura, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General did not even manage to organize a direct dialogue between the delegation of the Syrian Government and representatives of the opposition.

However, the fiasco of Western diplomacy is not surprising. First, it is evident that De Mistura does not enjoy the support of even the main participants of the negotiation process. For many months, he failed to find common ground between the Syrian authorities and the opposition. Perhaps De Mistura did not aspire to this, but his pronounced desire to “take into account” Washington’s interests turned against this experienced diplomat. He was no longer trusted in Damascus and Ankara.

Many representatives of other delegations made life easier for De Mistura: European and Saudi diplomats, instead of painstaking searching for a compromise, unequivocally took the side of the Syrian armed opposition. This fact, in turn, allowed opponents of Bashar Assad to put forward preliminary conditions for negotiations, although nothing of the kind had been expected before. Moreover, the insurgents once again began stubbornly to demand the immediate resignation of the Syrian leader. It is unlikely that this behaviour of Western politicians can be called wise – the government of Syria was confronted with an unrealizable ultimatum.

At the same time, neither the US administration nor the governments of European countries bothered to send real deans of diplomacy to these talks. It is difficult to say exactly guided Western policy. Perhaps Washington wanted to underline to the Syrians their unenviable place: that neither the government delegation nor the opposition representatives had any illusions that their fate ultimately was of no interest to influential diplomats. It seems to be true that neither the Americans nor the Europeans aimed at settling the Syrian conflict peacefully. The Geneva Talks format could only be interpreted as a distracting maneuver. Western diplomats were simply tasked to engage in procrastinating techniques in anticipation of US military victory over Assad. In any case, the Geneva dialogue faltered – the interlocutors did not develop a single practical solution option to the intractable Syrian question.

Many experts agree with this point of view’: they compare the Geneva talks to a “stillborn child”.

“The Geneva format is a topic that can be maintained more ritually, based on the fact that it is under the auspices of the UN. Until the decision to abandon negotiations in Geneva is taken, the US and its European partners will continue to drag this senseless structure further, even if it means carrying it on their own hump. Hiding behind its own illusions, Washington does not want to admit the obvious: not only the Syrian opposition, but even Turkey, its NATO ally, refers to the Geneva process with an unconcealed grin”, noted one of experts.

Meanwhile, against the background of the apparent failure of the talks in Geneva, Russia, Iran and Turkey jointly created a much more effective platform for resolving the Syrian conflict. On the initiative of their respective leaders, a series of meetings with the participation of leading diplomats-representatives of all interested parties took place in Astana in January 2017. By now, seven full-fledged negotiating rounds have already been held. The results are really impressive: within the framework of the “Astana process” for the first time, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara managed to bring to the negotiating table the irreconcilable enemies: the representatives of Bashar Assad and the Syrian armed opposition. This fact on its own constitutes an achievement of colossal proportions if one takes into account that the opposing sides rejected the slightest possibility of a peaceful dialogue hitherto.

This is not to say Moscow, Tehran and Ankara are trying to solve every issue at once. Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan are well aware that the settlement of the Syrian conflict is a long and difficult process. However, as they say, the road will be mastered by the wayfarer. Laborious and hard work began: the presidents and foreign ministers of the three countries developed step by step the principles and conditions for the settlement of the civil war in Syria. In May a major breakthrough was achieved: the creation of four de-escalation zones for the first time in seven years. Consequently, truce was established on a large part of the Syrian territory.

Finally, during the Sochi talks in November, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on a gradual transition to peace in Syria. The heads of state reached an agreement on holding a congress of the Syrians with the participation of all the conflicting parties. At the same time, Moscow does not play at give-away. Putin unequivocally let Assad know that the Kremlin expects from Damascus readiness for concessions and compromise.

Meanwhile, Washington continues to insist that the main issues of the Syrian settlement must continue to be resolved in the Geneva Talks. But it is despair – instead of really contributing to the establishment of peace in Syria, American diplomats continue to repeat the same annoying mantras.