The Secretary General of the Arab League has heralded the Syrian crisis entering its “final stage”. In turn, the Qataris are optimistic about a converging US-Russian stance towards Syria, especially with the announcement of a meeting between Russian and American officials in Geneva, with Lakhdar Brahimi in attendance, to discuss the Syrian issue. So what is going on?
Sources indicate that there is a Russian proposal to form a transitional government with no powers for al-Assad, and no involvement of any member of the al-Assad regime who has Syrian blood on his hands. This transitional government would be headed by a prominent Syrian opposition member, whilst al-Assad would remain in the country until 2014 but would not stand in the next elections; at least this is a summary of what I heard. Of course the Russians say that they have not changed their stance towards what is happening in Syria, so the question here is: If the Russians have not changed their stance then why the meeting with the Americans and Brahimi in the first place? Why the optimism of the Qataris and Nabil Elaraby, the latter especially who said that the goal of the US-Russian negotiations in Geneva is “to prepare for a Security Council resolution”, and that the resolution will be “a clear message to the regime that it is no longer protected”. Elaraby did not stop there, he also said that the Syrian opposition could form an alternative to take over power at an appropriate time, so what is the reason behind such optimism and statements if Russia’s position has not changed?
It is clear from the proposal referred to above that there is an attempt to apply the Gulf initiative in Yemen to the Syrian crisis now, but in a distorted manner, under the pretext of the fear of al-Assad using chemical weapons. Of course, if this proposal, i.e. for a transitional government and for al-Assad to remain in Syria until 2014, is the real basis for the US-Russian meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, then this is nothing but a waste of time and an attempt to save al-Assad from all the crimes he has committed, rather than an attempt to get him to leave the country. Al-Assad’s exit may be an acceptable option to the Syrians, provided that he leaves for another country immediately so the transitional phase can begin. As for waiting for the 2014 elections, this would legitimize al-Assad because it would mean acknowledging him as president, despite all the Syrians who have died, and this is certainly unworkable. For al-Assad to step down and stay in Syria, along the lines of Ali Abdullah Saleh who stayed in Yemen, this is truly unacceptable.
Thus, it is clear from the Russian stance now, whatever the Russians say, that Moscow has begun to lose hope in the resilience of the al-Assad regime, and has begun to realize there is no point standing by it. Likewise it is clear from the US-Russian meeting that Moscow now is in a stage of negotiation, even though the Russians have waited a long time and many of their negotiation cards in Syria have lost their value as a result of the developing situation on the ground. The Free Syrian Army has begun to surround the capital Damascus with the rapid weakening of the al-Assad regime, and at the same time the Syrian opposition is becoming more cohesive and robust on the political stage. Thus it is difficult today to imagine any proposal or solution to the Syrian crisis without al-Assad leaving the scene completely now, not in a year or two years’ time.