The protocol aspect of the Geneva II peace conference took another step forward this weekend as Ban Ki-moon set Dec. 20 as the date for delivering invitations to the long-awaited gathering.
Unless the secretary-general of the United Nations and his team have isolated themselves from all of the media coverage and commentary in the run-up to Geneva II, they should be fully aware that there is a huge amount of skepticism for the event. This makes it even more critically important for the U.N. and the other key sponsors to carry out careful and detailed preparations for the conference.
As the U.N. team and other actors engage in the necessary planning and lobbying, whether in public or in private, the end result must be a serious and viable meeting. It’s too much to expect that by the time the Geneva II conference adjourns Syria’s political future will be settled and implemented by the various parties. But the conference must set in motion a meaningful and credible process – with tangible steps beginning immediately – to prevent even further political and diplomatic disarray. There are many politicians and officials who verbally back the notion of a political solution to the war in Syria, and it’s time for them to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.
Complaining about the complexities of Syria is no excuse. The organizers of Geneva must deal with the serious demands being put forward by the opposition, namely a signal that Syrian President Bashar’s Assad rule is about to end and not be prolonged indefinitely under a vaguely spelled-out political process and that besieged civilian populations receive immediate relief.
They must deal with the issue of who will be represented in the opposition delegation, which means tackling the thorny questions of civilian and military actors and those based inside and outside the country. There is the daunting matter of the country’s Kurdish community, as well as the question of which regional states will be invited to attend.
The organizers must have in mind a credible way to convince the two sides to move forward and away from the daily slaughter and establish a blueprint for tomorrow’s Syria. The regime and the opposition won’t be able to do this by themselves, and in the end, they will demand certain guarantees if there is any hope of getting their signatures on the relevant pieces of paper.
Syria, as well as the region, can’t afford a failure of the talks once they start. If Geneva II fails to launch a viable, peaceful political process, then the country’s territorial and political unity will be in danger of disintegration. Any further movement in this dangerous direction will be accompanied by bloodletting on a much wider scale, as well as the redrawing of the political and geographical map of the Middle East in a way that no one can predict, no matter how confident they might be right now about such a scenario.