BEIRUT – On the heels of the latest “missed opportunity” at the failed U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, Syria Deeply’s latest Deeply Talks series explores the reasons for the recent flurry of diplomatic discussions, Russia’s push for new negotiation initiatives and whether or not these talks will actually bring the conflict closer to a resolution.
After the eighth round of Geneva talks ended this month without results, another round of Moscow-backed negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana began on Wednesday, and, for the first time, Russia is expected to host an all-Syria congress, bringing together hundreds of representatives in the resort town of Sochi early next year.
Rami Khoury, professor of media studies and senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut and nonresident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, and Max Suchkov, Russia-Mideast editor at Al-Monitor and nonresident expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, joined our deputy managing editor Hashem Osseiran to discuss the latest diplomatic developments.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation.
According to Khoury, there will be no serious breakthrough at the Geneva talks unless the U.S. and Russians agree on what needs to be done and can convince their partners inside Syria to engage seriously.
“The likelihood of a breakthrough in Geneva is slim,” he said. “But the fact is it is still the only platform that has internationally legitimacy… so it will remain there as a receptacle that can be filled in once all the parties are ready to make a deal.”
Suchkov agreed, but added that deals brokered elsewhere, like the upcoming Russian-sponsored Syrian congress in Sochi, could be implanted into the U.N.-sponsored talks.
The underlying motive behind Russia’s recent push to bring the conflict in Syria to an end, according to Suchkov, is Moscow’s upcoming presidential election.
“During the presidential elections campaign … Putin supporters will most definitely present Syria as a success story for the Russian military and for the Russian diplomatic school,” he said. However, he cautioned that if Russia does not succeed in brokering a diplomatic solution, Moscow’s so-called victory will “look pale.”
While Russia seems to have some sort of vision for what it wants in Syria – or at least what it wants out of its involvement in the conflict – the same cannot be said of the U.S., said Khoury.
“There is no clear American policy,” he said. “They really don’t know what they are doing is my impression, and this is common for the United States in the Middle East.”
Khoury argued that we should not expect much from Washington with regards to a settlement, explaining that U.S. President Donald Trump understands that Russia is taking the lead on Syria. The U.S., he added, will be flexible “in giving Russia what it wants.”
While politicians and diplomatic delegations continue to negotiate at various venues, in Syria, “no one has won or lost. At least not yet,” Suchkov said.
Listen to the whole call here:
Deeply Talks is a regular feature, bringing together our network of readers and expert contributors to examine the latest developments in the Syrian conflict, with a view toward the long-term prospects for peace building and stability.
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