Syrian Peace Talks Suspended as Regime Advances toward Aleppo

Photo Credit: Reuters

After a delayed start this week, the “Geneva III Peace Talks” have already been suspended. According to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, the talks were halted due to a lack of progress and are slated to resume February 25. The suspension was announced as the regime reportedly made significant advances toward Aleppo, severing rebel supply routes with the help of Russian airstrikes.

The talks were scheduled to begin last weekend between the Syrian Government and a coalition of opposition forces, the Higher Negotiation Committee. However multiple setbacks, including a bombing near Damascus that killed 45 people, the regime’s military seizure of additional land, and the HNC’s refusal to partake in the talks because of a disagreement with Russia, have delayed peace talks. The UN, United States, Russia, and neighboring regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey also have a role in the talks.

Among the obstacles to the talks thus far has been the question of who would represent the opposition. The HNC–described by Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment as “stacked with anti-Islamist, doveish, and borderline regime-friendly factions”–is a group of 34 members from the National Coalition, its rival National Coordination Body, independent spokespersons, and some armed rebel groups. Last week, the HNC threatened to back out of the talks because Russia insisted that other opposition groups be at the negotiating table. According to John Hudson and Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy, the HNC’s move risked creating “deeper tensions with the group’s Gulf and international backers at a time when the opposition can little afford to lose negotiating leverage.“

The talks will be brokered by UN mediator Staffan de Mistura and are hoped to last for approximately six months. In a recorded statement released by the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry implored both sides to “negotiate in good faith, with the goal of making concrete, measurable progress in the days immediately ahead.”

However few remain optimistic that talks will produce any results, if the talks can proceed at all. Political analyst Ahmed Suleiman argues that, “The regime wants to gradually reduce the regions controlled by the opposition in an attempt to prove its strength at the negotiating table and force the opposition into submission, in case the latter invoked any conditions or solutions that are not accepted by the regime.” According to Andrew Tabler, “The Assad regime and opposition are still seeking maximalist, whole-country solutions that neither seems capable of achieving in the near term.”

James Traub suggested, “The ‘Geneva Process’ is no more likely to succeed today than it was the last time it was tried, in 2014. Should they ever sit down, those on the other side of the table — the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran — will not feel compelled to accept any offer to which Syria’s rebels or their backers in the region could possible agree. So what’s Plan B? Ha. There is no Plan B.”