As it was expected, the international conference on Syria in the Swiss town of Montreux on January 22, with the participation of nearly 40 foreign ministers, did not bring any radical decisions, although there were intense arguments between supporters of the Syrian opposition and supporters of official Damascus. The conference was opened by the Swiss President Didier Burkhalter as the head of the host country. After that, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered a speech and told participants that “the joint efforts of the Syrian opposition and the government, with the participation of other countries, will initiate the peace process”. He also called on the Syrian delegations to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to those who needed them. “The Syrian government and opposition have met for the first time to try and find a peaceful solution of the crisis in Syria,” said Ban Ki-moon. “If the Syrian government had been more attentive to the wishes of its people, this conference would not have been necessary,” said the UN Secretary General, thus placing the responsibility for the civil war not on the armed militants of the opposition, supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and some Western countries, but on the legitimate government of Damascus. However, he acknowledged that the escalation of the conflict had been promoted by the supplies of arms from abroad, as well as by foreign militants and radical groups.
After Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a speech, where he focused on the following points:
– Syria is turning into a centre of international terrorism;
– The task of Geneva-2 is to stop the conflict in Syria;
– It is necessary to engage Iran in finding a solution to the Syrian issue;
– The conflict in Syria must not be turned into a conflict inside Islam.
In particular, the Russian minister said: “We hope that all external players will encourage Syrians to reach an agreement, to refrain – and prevent the sides – from attempts to prejudge final agreements, and other steps that could derail the negotiation process.”
According to him, the common task of the participants of the conference is to end the conflict in Syria, which is plaguing the Syrian people and destroying this ancient land. He noted that Russia supported the aspiration of the Arab peoples for a better life, sustainable development and prosperity, but urgent transformations could be effective only if they were carried out in a peaceful, non-violent way.
Lavrov reminded that from the very beginning of the Syrian conflict, Russia consistently proceeded from the fact that it could not be solved militarily, and could be resolved only based on the mutual consent of the Syrians. “This approach formed the basis of the Geneva communiqué,” reminded Mr. Lavrov. He expressed his confidence that all participants of the Syrian settlement wanted to preserve Syria as a sovereign, territorially integral, secular state that guaranteed the rights of all religious and ethnic groups.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke after Lavrov, based his speech on the thesis – “Assad cannot be among the members of the transitional government”, and accused Damascus of using chemical weapons against its own people. “We must be realistic. The transitional government cannot be formed if one of the parties has any objections as to the candidates. That is why Assad cannot be a member of the transitional government,” he said. “To date, about 130,000 people have been killed. It is difficult to determine the exact figure. All these people were killed by firearms, tanks, artillery, cluster ammunition, and chemical weapons. The opposition did not have these weapons at its disposal,” said Mr. Kerry.
The speech of the Foreign Minister of the SAR, Walid Muallem, was based on the following:
– The opposition has no constructive proposals;
– The results of the Geneva-2 conference will be put to a referendum in Syria;
– The Wahhabis are trying to bring the country into the past;
– Some participants of Geneva-2 support terrorism in Syria.
He accused a number of countries participating in the Geneva-2 of being accessories in the killing of civilians in Syria. “I and the Syrian people regret that representatives of a number of countries are sitting in this room now, although there is still blood of Syrians on their hands,” he said. Muallem also criticized those who opposed the government, hiding behind the slogan of the “Great Syrian Revolution” and their foreign sponsors. “They plunged the country into the dirt, but now they are unmasked, and we can see what they are striving for, they want to aggravate the situation in the country, pump petrodollars to mercenaries, behave like barbarians and hide behind the goals of the Syrian Revolution,” he said.
Muallem expressed his gratitude to Russia, China and other BRICS countries for their support. He said that the reports of the Western media about the situation in the country were a lie. He called on the international community to lift sanctions from the country and promised that his country would do everything possible to protect itself. Muallem told his American counterpart John Kerry that no one except the Syrian people has the right to talk about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Syrian president. The results of Geneva-2 will be put to a referendum in Syria, he said.
Then, Ban Ki-moon and the Foreign Minister of Syria Walid Muallem started arguing – this happened because Muallem exceeded the time limit of his speech. As a result, Ban Ki-moon interrupted the speech of the Foreign Ministry of Syria, calling his speech “not constructive”.
The head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, started his speech at the International Conference in Montreux with accusations against Damascus authorities for human rights violations. He called on Syrian authorities to reaffirm their plans for the establishment of a transitional government.
The key Arab and other regional sponsors of the Syrian bloodshed said nothing new. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the current President of the country Bashar al-Assad should not be involved in the future of Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that it was necessary to form a transitional government in Syria – the current government has lost legitimacy. Then the Foreign Minister of Qatar went as far as to call on people not to blame the terrorists for the escalation of violence in Syria.
In this regard, the Minister of Information of Syria, O. Al-Zoubi, said that the Syrian government does not agree with all the provisions of the Geneva communiqué. “The Syrian people will decide whether Assad can be the President,” said the Minister. He noted that Syrian delegation was not yet ready to talk about the signing of the Geneva communiqué. Syrian authorities are willing to hold a maximally open presidential election after the external support to the terrorists, acting in this country, is ceased, and unilateral sanctions, introduced against Damascus by a number of states, are removed, said Safi Ayush, a member of the Syrian delegation to the Geneva-2 international conference. The Minister of Information of Syria, Omran al-Zoabi, said that Assad “would never leave his post”.
The inter-Syrian talks with the participation of experts of the Russian Federation and the United States will begin in Geneva on January 24 and will last for about 7–10 days under the coordination of Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint representative of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria. It is not excluded that the level of representatives of international mediators in Geneva may be upgraded, if necessary.
In general, we can say that there still are significant differences, as well as only a very small chance to come to an agreement. The main positive result of the conference is the fact that the warring parties – representatives of the official Damascus and the opposition, were seated at the negotiating table for the first time in three years of the bloody conflict in Syria. Nevertheless, their speeches at the conference, as expected, were reduced to mutual accusations and reproaches that exposed the depth of the split once again. In addition, there is no consensus in the international community. Russia, China and several other countries adhere to objective and constructive positions, while the United States, Saudi Arabia and their allies try to use the Geneva-2 to get rid of B. Assad’s regime, which cannot be achieved by military means.
Alexander Orlov, political scientist and expert orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.