What to Expect From This Round of Geneva Talks

A new round of peace talks kicked off today in Geneva, as aid efforts continued in Homs. More than 700 civilians were evacuated from Homs this weekend, despite an attack on the United Nations convoy carrying out the mission.

Written by Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Today, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and other Western countries would call for a U.N. resolution that would provide greater access for humanitarian aid, most likely in the form of safe transit corridors.

We asked experts to weigh in on what to expect from the latest round of peace talks.

Riad Kahwaji, CEOINEGMA:

The talks are starting with the Syrian government blowing smoke about the very limited aid that has gone into Homs, where 600 civilians are being evacuated while millions of Syrians remain under siege in various cities and towns throughout the country. The regime is trying to block any attempts to open other topics [at the talks] related to easing the pressure on the civilian population.

The expectations right now are to get both sides to discuss initiatives that would aid the humanitarian aspects of the conflict. We need, in this round, to have a more solid foundation for dialogue, a clearer framework, a clearer path [to a political solution]. These are our expectations, but the reality is that the regime is feeling confident. It seems to be more in favor of a military solution and confident that its forces will eventually be able to tip the balance on the ground in their favor. Therefore, what they need to do now is to buy time. So this negotiation is just to buy time and not to make change on the ground.

The regime is stalling on all fronts, even on getting rid of its chemicals. It is intent on not making concessions and a military solution. So at the moment, I don’t really have much expectation of these talks, especially with Russia and the West not putting any serious pressure on anyone to bring about an actual solution to the conflict.

Taufiq Rahim, Dubai-based political analyst:

During the last round of talks, there was very little interaction between the two sides. While there was a lot of noise about the potential for a breakthrough in Aleppo and Homs, during the “negotiations” none of that came to fruition. In the intervening period since those talks concluded, however, there was a deal reached for a small but real cease-fire in Homs. That means that although we are not likely to have any kind of dramatic political breakthrough during these talks, there remains the prospect of other humanitarian compromises, including the sharing of lists of prisoners, which could lead to an eventual prisoner exchange. That development, along with something in Aleppo, is what everyone is watching for. A concession wouldn’t be a cease-fire; it would likely be some kind of humanitarian corridor.

While last week was not a success, it was not entirely a failure in relative terms. With the abject disaster that both parties have been hitherto, the talks have actually been an incremental improvement. It was the first time the regime and the opposition were face to face. There were steps that were agreed upon. That was something. So should we be expecting the end of the conflict this week [in Geneva]? Of course not. Can we expect additional changes and compromise? It’s a possibility.

Andrew Bowen, Middle East scholar, James A. Baker Institute, Rice University:

There’s no change in who’s negotiating or the willingness to negotiate. Iran is still not there, the opposition is still just represented by the Syrian National Council, and no one from the fighting groups on the ground is present.

They can try to get some fragile, half-hearted agreement on Homs. But I think humanitarian aid has become a tool of war as much as barrel bombs. I think Assad sees it as being more advantageous to keep populations fearful and starving than to provide aid. The news of the massacre of Alawites in a central village [this weekend] serves to further his team’s view that they can’t make peace with the opposition, or they will all be slaughtered.

Will they go for anything [towards] a transitional governing body? I think not. I think they’ll bicker back and forth about what they think the communique of Geneva I entails. It will take a Geneva III or a Geneva IV for either side to substantially talk about reform and the way forward. It comes down to the fact that Assad is still unwilling to leave office. As much as he says he wants to come to Geneva to talk about terrorism, his strategy, as evidenced by Homs and other areas, is to terrorize the civilian population.

Aleppo is territorially harder than Homs in terms of the different groups fighting for control. It is easier to get a cease-fire in Homs because there are fewer players fighting for it. Concessions in Aleppo would be significant, but it’s too contested by different groups. Homs is a focal point because it was the last vestige of hope from the first round of Geneva peace talks. Even when you look at what was happening yesterday with the U.N. going in with their convoy, you see that the regime isn’t interested in broadening aid corridors.

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