Syria’s state-owned news agency, SANA, recently quoted Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as saying that the ceasefire proposal by the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was “worth studying.” But it would be wrong to believe that this statement represents a shift in Assad’s position.
The facts tell us that Assad has manipulated every proposal put forward since the Syrian revolution started. Once he agrees on an initiative, he empties it of its content and wastes time procrastinating. Ever since he succeeded his father, Assad has used the ruse of flooding his opponents with details, in the process undermining every political plan without even raising objections.
He has mastered the art of wriggling out of tight corners and acting as though nothing is wrong, which he achieves by either escalating or complicating negotiations. He did this with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which investigated the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; the Arab initiative on Syria following the revolution; the Arab League inspectors; and the UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria Kofi Annan, and later Lakhdar Brahimi. He also pulled his tricks at the Geneva I and II conferences.
Throughout his rule and during the Syrian crisis, Assad has been machinating and delaying. He has shown a lack of commitment on all levels, with the exception of the chemical weapons deal—obviously due to pressures from Russia, not the US, to hand over his cache. Nevertheless, no one can confirm whether Assad has turned over his entire stock of chemical weapons.
Why, then, should the international community and the wider region believe his remarks regarding the ceasefire plan for Aleppo? Indeed, there is no evidence to support his assertions. Assad has lost all credibility as he has not made good on his past pledges. Certainly, the president is trying to empty de Mistura’s proposal of its substance, just as he did with proposals put forward by other UN envoys.
Assad will continue to kill Syrians, with the help of Iran and the shabiha (armed thugs) of Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. Nothing points to the likelihood that Assad and his backers may be credible this time, particularly since they have been operating under the “Bashar and no one else” slogan.
Listening to Assad’s recent comments on the ceasefire plan is a waste of time. As long as there are no international efforts to stop his crimes, all such cooperation with the regime will only prolong the Syrian crisis.