Bashar Will Not Negotiate about His Government

27 October 2013 | 16:03 Code : 1923523 Interview General category
An interview with Qasem Mohebbali, an expert on regional affairs
Bashar Will Not Negotiate about His Government

Considering Lakhdar Brahimi’s visits to the region to resolve the Syrian issues and his attempts to bring the opposition to the Geneva conference, it seems that Bashar Assad must have a more positive view towards the Geneva conference. But there is no sign of this positive view about the resolution of the Syrian issue in his latest remarks. How would you assess Bashar Assad’s statements?

Following the agreement reached between Russia and the US over the issue of Syria and the destruction of the chemical weapons and also about the Geneva-2 conference, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118 which has two annexes; one with regard to the chemical weapons and the other to find a peaceful solution to end the crisis. Naturally, after the adoption of this resolution, the Arab League and the Friends of Syria and other countries started their activities to enforce the peaceful solution. Under the present circumstances, it is natural that the government of Syria and the opposition attempt to enter negotiations with the upper hand to bargain and Bashar Assad’s statements can be analyzed along this line. Despite the fact that Bashar Assad accepted the resolution in its totality, he implicitly said that we are not very hopeful about the outcome of negotiations. These remarks show that the Syrian President intends to improve his position and enter negotiations in the Geneva-2 conference with the upper hand.

Can it be said that the victories of Assad’s government on the scene, for example in Qalamoun and other regions, have helped him and led him to make such statements?

That is certainly the case. Considering the fact that the opposition is not in a good position and there are even conflicts among them and they are fighting on different fronts including against the government of Assad and within themselves, it is natural that the position of Bashar Assad has improved due to their progress in the Damascus suburbs and thus he intends to enter negotiations with a higher position.

Based on Bashar Assad’s remarks, can it be said that the Geneva-2 conference is not important and credible for him?

As Bashar Assad was forced to accept the destruction of chemical weapons, he is bound now to participate in this conference, for the person who, at the present time, must hand over power is Bashar Assad. Even if his removal from power is not proposed, he must hand over part or all of the government to the opposition or share power with them. Thus, the President of Syria is certainly not happy about his participation in this conference because he will put his destiny in the hands of the big powers and countries which will decide about the transfer of power under international supervision.

The opposition has announced its readiness to participate under certain conditions. Has Bashar Assad intended to act similarly?

There are several groups within the opposition. The al-Nusra front will certainly not attend the conference. The Free Syrian Army, like the Assad government, is bargaining. In the end, if the conference is held and the Arab League and western countries and the big powers decide to hold this conference, they will have no other choice but to accept it. But now they set pre-conditions. For example, they say that Bashar Assad must not be present in the future government. Therefore, if an international agreement is reached for the two sides to participate in this conference, they will be bound to participate in it.

Another issue which is discussed is the release of the Turkish pilots and 9 Lebanese prisoners which seems to have taken place due to the efforts made by different countries. Is there a change in Turkey’s position, in your opinion, with regard to Syria?

It does not seem that the freedom of the hostages has had any impact. As you know, these Lebanese individuals were taken hostage by the rebel groups when they were returning to Lebanon from Turkey. Their families took two Turkish pilots hostage in Beirut. It means that they intended to exchange these hostages. Thus, this issue is not related to Turkey’s positions with regard to Syria. Turkey solved this issue with the help of Iran, Qatar and Hezbollah and in the end exchanged the hostages. Thus, the position of the government of Turkey is the same as before. But naturally any government or political force makes decisions based on the existing conditions. This means that if the government of Syria is changed, the positions of the government of Turkey will certainly change as well. This means that there are two policies in international relations; one policy is official acceptance and the other de facto acceptance. Generally, relations between countries are based on the de facto policy, meaning that if the position of the government of Syria is strengthened, the Turks will change their position with regard to Syria due to the fact that they are neighbors. But if the foundations of the government are weakened and become shaky, then they will intensify their policy.

The US has high hopes in the Geneva-2 conference to resolve the Syrian issue. But Bashar Assad has stated in his recent statements that the US will never be a friend of the Syrian government. What will, in your opinion, the US approach be and is it possible that they could reach an agreement under the present circumstances?

The situation in Syria is somewhat complicated. Due to this complexity, it cannot be said whether the positions of the US and other countries which are involved in this matter will remain the same for these positions change according to the conditions. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has stated in his latest remarks that their positions with regard to Bashar Assad have not changed and he must not be present in the future Syrian government. Naturally, Bashar Assad is not happy with this position and cannot enter into negotiations with the US unless this pre-condition set by the US is removed or new circumstances are created. If the US removes this pre-condition, the position of Bashar Assad with regard to the Americans will change as well and as he showed his flexibility with regard to the chemical weapons, he might change his position with regard to different regional and domestic issues. But as long as the US position is the removal of Bashar Assad, it seems impossible that he would be willing to negotiate with the US.

Therefore, you believe that the acceptance of the Security Council resolution with regard to the chemical weapons by the government of Bashar Assad was due to the presence of Russia?

What is important today for the government of Syria is to maintain the government, thus, it is ready to negotiate about any issue except the government itself. Therefore, when the issue of a US military invasion was proposed, the government of Syria accepted to destroy its chemical weapons. Bashar Assad has stated in this regard that he had acquired chemical weapons in the past to fight against Israel’s atomic weapons, but when the issue of a military invasion against Syria was proposed, this matter was exchanged with the invasion.

tags: bashar assad syria

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