Diplomatic developments in the Syrian crisis are awaited this week, although the short-term objective of convening a Geneva II peace conference experienced a bump over the weekend. While the head of the Arab League unveiled a date for the Geneva conference in late November, the U.N.- Arab League envoy for Syria noted – at the same news conference – that no such date existed as of yet.
Perhaps the mixed signals are the clearest evidence that the period leading up to Geneva, assuming it takes place, will be one full of solemn affirmations as well as posturing, conditions and counter-conditions, measured criticism and exasperated rage.
One can argue at length over who is responsible for the current state of affairs, but the essential point is that Tuesday, opposition figures and their allies in the international community are scheduled to meet in London. They are expected to hammer out a coherent, united position on Geneva, in terms of the opposition’s attendance and stance at the meeting.
There have been loud voices of dissent in the run-up to Geneva, as some opposition figures demand guarantees that Assad’s departure will be part of the process. There have also been loud voices of dissent inside Syria, rejecting the leadership of the opposition National Coalition. If the coalition is to represent the Syrian people and achieve their aspirations, it must do its utmost to reflect the majority position and not merely take a stance that grabs headlines but fails to deliver anything tangible over the long run.
As for the countries that claim to back the coalition and the Syrian people, the Geneva process thus far leaves much to be desired. Based on the statements of Syrian opposition figures, the lack of a clear agenda is truly worrying. Geneva I was an agreement to establish a transitional government with full executive powers, meaning Syrian President Bashar Assad would be out of the picture. One can forgive the Syrian opposition for being less than enthusiastic about Geneva II, after Geneva I remained a mere wish list for over a year. The organizers of Geneva II, and particularly the United States and the United Nations, should be clear about why they are inviting the opposition to Switzerland.
Another party that could face a test of its credibility is Russia, which has been busy promoting itself as a dynamic problem-solver when it comes to Syria. Moscow’s ally continues to hold to its confusing line of “we have no conditions but we will not talk to terrorists,” and the Russians should be clear over whether they will continue act as the Syrian regime’s No. 1 enabler or as a neutral force interested in creating and enforcing a solution.
Over the next few weeks, as the Geneva process prompts stances by the various sides, the credibility of all will be under the microscope, and no side these days is suffering from a surplus of credibility.