John Hudson reports that next month’s proposed Syrian peace conference has run into a wall:
Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal of bringing the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime to the negotiating table next month has hit a major snag. In a letter obtained by The Cable, Gen. Salim Idris, the commander of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, says that the United States must establish “strategic military balance” between the rebels and Assad as a precondition to any peace talks [bold mine-DL].
The letter does not detail specifics, but Dan Layman, media relations director at the Syrian Support Group, a licensed U.S. advocacy group with extensive contacts to the Free Syrian Army, said the demand requires anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry such as 90 mm rockets, recoilless rifles, and ideally man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) [bold mine-DL].
Since the administration has so far refused to allow its clients to send heavy weapons to anti-regime forces, and it has no desire to provide these weapons itself, these demands aren’t going to be met. Even if the administration were inclined to provide such weapons to the opposition, I doubt they would do so under these circumstances. It’s understandable that the Syrian opposition would want to use the conference as an occasion to extract support from the U.S., but they have to know that this won’t be forthcoming. Making this demand as a precondition for attending a peace conference sponsored by the government whose support they want is exactly the wrong thing for the opposition to do.
Since the conference already appears to be in trouble, it’s worth looking at J. Michael Quinn and Madhav Joshi’s discussion of how a negotiated settlement might be reached in Syria. Quinn and Joshi believe that the joint U.S.-Russian effort to be flawed from the start:
The Kerry-Lavrov plan puts far too much on the agenda, and the venue is far too public for the actors to be able to reach some common understanding of the barriers to peace. At best, the conference could lead to more discreet talks on more manageable issues sometime down the road. If things do break down, it will be up to Assad and representatives of the three main opposition groups to put forth a short list of requests that the other side could reciprocate as preconditions for reentering into negotiations.
While the peace conference might lay the foundations for later negotiations, there seems to have been too little preparatory work before now to bring the warring parties together for talks. Another problem with the U.S.-Russian effort is that neither government is in a position to “deliver” its “side” in the conflict. The U.S. and Russia aren’t likely to agree on Syria, but even if the two governments had the same goals it wouldn’t mean that anyone in Syria would follow their lead. Simon Shuster talked to Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a few days ago for his report on Russian arms sales to Syria. Lukyanov said this:
What gives me serious pause is that the U.S. and Russia can agree on whatever they want, and maybe they will. But it’s pompous to think that the people fighting in Syria will obey that decision, put down their arms and go home.
The U.S. and Russia should keep trying to facilitate a negotiated settlement, but until the warring parties are prepared to make a deal there is nothing for outside governments to facilitate.