According to AraNews, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nation’s Special Envoy to Syria, did not confirm whether or not there will be a political transition in the Syrian government. This lack of clear indication as to how the transition of power would be carried out in the event of a permanent peace is a politically savvy move as it neither guarantees that Assad will be involved nor explicitly indicates that Assad won’t be involved in a political transition.
Mistura’s move is likely done to try to increase the chances of having both pro-Assad, i.e. Russian and Iranian representatives, and pro-rebel, i.e. US and other Western-aligned countries’ representatives, approach the forthcoming Geneva talks with the expectation that they will be genuine negotiations. That is to say, that the outcome of the talks have not already been decided and the future of the Syrian conflict is still unclear.
Moreover, as a Reuter’s news article called “U.N. and others play down expectations for Geneva talks on Syria” indicates, there is the ever-present problem of unreliable political leadership that has been shown by the White House. Mistura’s lack of confirmation could possibly reflect the fact that there will not be any definitive steps taken towards ending the Syrian conflict, so long as the US’s foreign policy remains in shambles.
American politics aside, a transition of power that would include Assad might be difficult to stomach, as there have been claims of egregious violence from pro-government forces and Assad is, obviously, unwilling to cede his power.
According to the University of Uppsala’s Conflict Data Program, there have been approximately 128,967 deaths due to state-based violence between 2011 and 2015, out of a total 147,649 battle-related deaths. This figure is a conservative estimate of the deaths that have been perpetrated by the government. According to The Guardian, the death toll of the Syrian conflict could be as high as 400,000 deaths and approximately 1.85 million Syrians are either registered or are awaiting registration as refugees.
In particular, sources from The Guardian allege that Assad’s regime perpetrated barbaric acts of violence against its citizens including the recently uncovered execution of 13,000 opponents of the state, the use of torture on state prisoners, the usage of chemical weapons, and the infamous attack on the UN aid convoy.
Given the aforementioned acts of violence as true, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where Assad’s regime would be allowed to maintain control over Syria, but Mistura’s lack of confirmation at least allows the ‘political space’ in which to have peace talks occur.