Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Negotiations with Assad? Some dangers

Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, has proposed negotiations with Assad.  The régime offers shifting counter-proposals.  Though it's hard to assess the whole situation, what's known suggests that negotiations are a non-starter.

For one thing, Assad has a virtually unbroken record of violating whatever he's agreed to.

For another, this time, he will have very plausible excuses for not fulfilling his commitments - plausible at least to the 'international community' which wants, above all, to do nothing.

He can always say, truthfully, that Khatib doesn't really have the means or authority to see that agreements are respected:  there are 'armed groups' who will not accept what he's agreed on. Since so many nations are so scared of  'extremists',  this should work very well.

Should a prisoner release be proposed or even conceded, he can always profess to have 'learned' that among the prisoners are numerous yet-unidentified Al Qaeda operatives, so that the release would endanger public safety.  The supposed identification process could be dragged out indefinitely.

He can always demand a large UN force prior to any withdrawal or resignation to 'protect minority rights'.   He can be confident that deploying such a force will take roughly until the 12th of Never.

He can always divide (if not conquer) by insisting that no agreement is credible without a firm commitment from Khatib to expel any 'Al Qaeda elements' like Jabhat al Nusra, not only from Syria's future, but from all 'sensitive areas', to 'prevent sectarian slaughter'.  This has a decent chance of creating serious armed conflict within the opposition, and it would probably go down well with Obama.  Of course Khatib could not honour any such commitment even if he were foolish enough to make it.

Indeed the negotiation process could easily pit elements of the opposition against one another without any effort on Assad's part.  It's certain that some are bitterly opposed to negotiations; perhaps they would even fight those in favor if too much seemed to be conceded.

 Assad would also probably try to improve his strategic position by calling for truces that would benefit him and not his opponents.  The opposition would be under considerable pressure to agree.

Following the failure of any 'peace initiative', Assad will be at least as strong as before, and the opposition much weaker on the international stage.

Finally, given how many have motive, means and potentially opportunity to kill him, Assad has no reason to believe in any safe exit proposal.  He could justly suppose that his own unilateral arrangements would be far safer, because less well known in advance.

So it's hard to see how negotiations have any prospect of ending the bloodshed.


  1. The Khatib initiative has already weakened the opposition considerably, because it signals to Assad that there is a lot of war weariness and that concessions that go much farer might be in it for the regime.

    This is even more apparent as Khatib upholds his offer despite expiration of his deadline and has dropped two of his preconditions to talks (release of prisoners and renewal of passports).

    Assad knows that Khatib is hell-bent on negotiating with the regime and that Khatib will drop his last precondition (Assad's exit) sooner or later.

    I hope Khatib will be stopped before he can do more damage.

  2. Dropping the dealines was alarming and I agree about the signal to Assad. What's more, the initiative legitimates and therefore encourages war-weariness among the opposition.