Golden Opportunity Lost In Syrian Diplomatic Peace Talks

United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, intending to end the Syrian Civil War, have fallen apart, with special envoy Staffan de Mistura admitting that “a golden big opportunity” has been missed. Now in the eighth round of talks, last Thursday’s developments have diminished the Geneva process’ credibility.

The deflated special envoy blamed the Syrian government’s delegation for setting preconditions on holding direct talks with the opposition, by refusing to discuss two major agenda items – a constitutional process and presidential elections. By insisting that they would only discuss terrorism, it appears difficult for any future peace talks to progress.

Without pressure from President Bashar al-Assad’s closest sponsor, Russia, Assad feels no need to negotiate with a divided and under-resourced opposition. Staffan de Mistura has implored the Russians to encourage the Syrian government’s delegators to continue with the painfully slow talks, saying “I would conclude by saying, if you did ask me, a big missed opportunity, a golden opportunity at the end of this year, when in fact there is a clear indication by many sides that the military operations are coming to a close.” He continued “but, we are not going to give up. The Syrian people, especially in this moment when they are expecting that once the conflict is over, there should be a political process and not preconditions.”

The collapse of the peace talks has provided President Vladimir Putin with political control of the peace process. Putin has announced that he will arrange a Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi in February. In an effort to make themselves a feasible negotiating partner with the Syrian government in the planned Sochi negotiations, the opposition has expanded its composition and diluted its platform. Unsurprisingly, the Sochi peace negotiations are already facing difficulties, with Turkey arguing that they will not allow Syrian Kurds to attend the discussion on the basis that they have links with the Turkish Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Mr. de Mistura was eager to exploit the Islamic State’s expulsion, military demise, and the increase in global diplomacy with talks between President Trump and President Putin in Vietnam last month. Nonetheless, de Mistura explained that winning the war was not enough, warning that without ‘good-faith’ political talks with all stakeholders, Syria risks losing the fragile peace once again. With families on the ground entering their seventh winter without adequate access to food, healthcare, and basic human rights, the situation on the ground is dismal.

Despite efforts by the United Nations to mediate the peace negotiations, very little has been achieved between the warring parties since the war erupted in during the Arab Spring in 2011. With an estimated 400,000 deaths in the Syrian Civil War and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of destruction and devastation, rebuilding the country will be a potentially insurmountable task. Furthermore, while the expulsion of ISIS is an incredibly important milestone in the nearly seven-year-long violent Syrian war. But the peace progress is equally important. If a strong and stable peace is not negotiated, the violent conflict could return to Syria.