Countdown to Geneva - 2

Although the countdown to the scheduled Geneva-2 international conference to resolve the Syrian imbroglio has begun, success looks rather unlikely due to hard postures adopted by both Syrian President Basher Al-Assad along with several opposition groups collected under the umbrella organisation the Syrian National Coalition. Whereas President Assad continues to remain firm in not stepping down, the belligerent opposition groups just as firmly hold that their engagement in the conference presupposes the removal of the Syrian president from power.

Adding to the dilemma is the likely abstention of Iran in the scheduled conference. Iran in fact enjoys considerable influence in the West Asian region, thereby further reducing the chances the conference's success. While the United Nations and Russia have strongly supported Iran's participation, the U.S. has objected to it on grounds of Teheran's refusal to sign an earlier agreement in Geneva seeking a change of regime in Syria. It is obvious that Iran wants to keep itself away from any formulation which may favour regime change as a precondition for dialogue.

It is in this context the talks between Mr. Assad and a visiting Russian parliamentary delegation have focussed the spotlight on the battle of wills between the Syrian government and the Western-backed opposition that seems unrelenting on its stand for a change of regime. President Assad emphasised that the issue of regime change was not under discussion. Instead, he expressed his clear desire to participate in ensuing elections as a likely result of the talks under Geneva-2 framework. "Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections," he asserted before the delegation. Obviously, President Assad's intention to deepen his political footing contrasts sharply with the aspiration of the opposition, which had declared its readiness to take part in the Geneva-2 in expectation of regime change. The coalition's leader, Mr. Ahmad Jarba said that the umbrella organisation is participating with the "sole aim of removing President Assad from power.

Perceptions of the Syrian government and the opposition groups on the country's future could not be more divergent, as are those of external powers, particularly the U.S., Russia, and most of the European nations who continue to support different belligerent groups operating in Syria in order to preserve and maintain their respective sphere of influence in the country.

Against this scenario, the real question as regards the success of the Geneva-2 is to bring all the stakeholders of the vexed Syrian issue -- despite their respective reservations -- to the scheduled talks without damaging the very purpose of the conference. Instead of supporting different warring factions in Syria with a view to extract maximum benefits, all the outside powers must adopt a neutral stand so that the people of Syria may come forward to decide the fate of President Assad's regime along with their own destiny. Earlier settlements imposed by outside powers have mostly failed, as may be seen in Iraq and Libya.