At talks in Geneva, the big five nuclear powers of the UNSC – Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain – along with regional hangers-on Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq, have agreed a new framework for Syria:
Peace envoy Kofi Annan said after the talks in Geneva that the government should include members of Assad’s administration and the opposition. But it was not immediately clear what role, if any, was envisaged for Assad.
“It is for the people to come to a political agreement but time is running out,” Annan said. “We need rapid steps to reach agreement. The conflict must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations.”
The parties must put forward interlocutors to help him work towards a settlement, he added.
Prior to the talks, deputy Russian FM Gennady Gatilov had tweeted “”Our Western partners want to determine themselves the results of the political process in Syria … However, this is a matter for the Syrians themselves.” That’s been Russia’s strong stance all along – and it has always been more about “who decides” as the Carnegie Endowment’s Dmitri Trenin put it. “Who decides whether to use military force; who decides the actors for use of that force; and who decides under what rules, conditions, and oversight military force is to be used.” For entirely selfish reasons Russia wants it to be the UNSC, where veto powers form a natural if sometimes unfair check on egregious intervention. The West, and the U.S. in particular, would rather they were the Dubya-style “deciderers” through coalitions of the willing that act more to preserve America’s slowly failing grasp on hegemony than for international peace.
Russia’s reasons may be selfish – preserving a little foreign infuence itself while hedging against its one excesses one day perhaps being the subject of Western regime change efforts disguised as R2P – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right. The UNSC’s main task is preventing war between nuclear-armed Great Powers and it has a fine record of doing exactly that, partly by ensuring that those same Great Powers couldn’t intervene willy-nilly and kick of all kinds of proxy wars that could escalate in unexpected directions.
So Russia has one a major diplomatic victory by getting the US, France and UK to agree to a unity government rather than complete regime change, well aware of how the West rode roughshod over UNSC agreements on Libya. However, there’s a potential problem in that Russia and the West still obviously disagree on Assad’s role in that, if any. Apparently Hillary Clinton said after the meeting that “Assad will have to go..he won’t pass the mutual consent test”.
Today’s agreement by the Powers isn’t in any way enforceable on the Syrian government or rebels, nor on the Iranians and Saudis who are the two biggest proxy players. None were present at these talks or party to this agreement. Hopefully, next steps will involve bring all of them on board.