Kerry announces Syria 'roadmap to nowhere'
At a press conference in VIenna yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared jointly with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and announced an agreement that would see the government of Syria beginning negotiations with the opposition by January 1 with elections scheduled two years from now.
No agreement was reached about the future of President Assad or even which groups would be invited to the table.
The Paris attacks shifted the focus of negotiations in Vienna from the detail of which organizations would count as opposition groups rather than terrorist ones, and could therefore take part in a political solution in Syria, to defeating Islamic State militarily, diplomats said.
"I have a feeling that there is a growing recognition of the need to create an effective international coalition to fight Islamic State," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the joint news conference with Kerry and the U.N. envoy for Syria.
Russia has for weeks been carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of Assad's forces. But Western powers say those strikes have mainly targeted armed groups other than Islamic State, such as pro-Western rebel militias.
On Saturday, Russia and the United States seemed to turn a blind eye to their long-standing disagreement over Assad's fate. The West and its allies say he must leave office, while Moscow and Tehran support elections in which he could stand.
"We still differ, obviously, on the issue of what happens with Bashar al-Assad," Kerry said. "But we are relying on the political process itself, led by Syrians, which it will be going forward, and the Syrians negotiating with Syrians; that that can help bring a close to this terrible chapter."
In a joint statement, the countries involved in the talks, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, laid out a plan including formal talks between the government and opposition by Jan. 1.
The statement did not make clear how those groups would be chosen, but said they should follow principles such as committing to Syria's "non-sectarian character" and keeping state institutions intact.
If they only allow militias to negotiate who believe in the "non sectarian character" of Syria, that's going to be a pretty short list. But it hardly matters. The main opposition groups all say they won't negotiate until Assad is gone, and since Russia is hoping that Assad's government can stay in power long enough to rig an election two years from now, the negotations are dead before they even start.
Syria is being emptied of its population with half the nation now refugees who are either internally displaced or are on the move toward Europe. In two years, there may not be much of a country to run at all. Russia could be more helpful, but they won't be as long as they see Assad as their only option. This makes the "roadmap" a route to nowhere.
A fitting analogy for the bloody mess Syria has become.