Preliminary Syrian peace talks end in agreement


Once again, I put pen to paper to write about the conflict in Syria, but for the first time, I’m not saddened by the news.

I am pleased to report that late last week, negotiators from a myriad of countries involved in the conflict — including the U.S. and Russia — agreed to a temporary “cessation of hostilities” in order to provide humanitarian aid and to further more long-lasting peace talks.

Two previous rounds of attempted peace talks were stillborn, faltering and falling apart before any traction could be gained.

What both of those lacked, however, was united pressure from the international community to resolve the situation.

Now, around 20 countries have gathered together in the newly minted International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which aims to de-escalate hostilities and create peace on the region.

The group — which includes interested regional and foreign countries — has brought together several pairs of countries who are usually at odds, such as the U.S., Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The agreement, largely the work of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, gives the Syrian army and the rebel opposition a week to confirm the truce.

The ceasefire also applies to outside forces currently acting in conjunction with either side, but notably excludes ISIS.

Unfortunately, the integrity of the ceasefire is highly questionable.

Although the intent is admirable, and many were shocked that any truce was signed, there are still many hurdles to overcome before we can have confidence that the agreement will hold.

First and foremost, is that Russia holds most of the cards in the negotiations, and its primary goal is propping up Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The two countries have long-standing diplomatic ties, including Syria housing a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean.

In order to keep the Assad regime strong, Russia has been executing a campaign of airstrikes against all opposition forces, not just ISIS.

Thanks to this support, the Syrian army has made huge strides in reclaiming land it lost to rebel fighters.

Thus, the Syrians and their Russian allies have little incentive to end the air campaign, and indeed, there was no firm agreement from Russia to halt its bombing runs.

I, and many others, worry that Russia will continue to bomb non-ISIS rebels and by doing so threaten the tenuous peace.

Additionally, the week-long period before the ceasefire comes into effect echoes a similar three-day long period in the Ukrainian ceasefire agreement.

In that instance, Russia embarked on a large, rapid military campaign to seize as much territory as possible before the ceasefire.

Despite these concerns, I am optimistic about the prospects of the ceasefire.

It is only a stopgap measure, and larger peace talks will be held at the U.N. beginning on Feb. 25.

I am hopeful that between now and then, the new ceasefire will allow much-needed humanitarian aid to reach the hundreds of thousands who are trapped in the conflict.

After the interim week is up, the world will see whether my optimism is well-founded and the truce holds.

If that is the case, then another, far more challenging concern arises: how to move forward to a more permanent peace.

Without resolving the ethnic and religious issues behind the war, no ceasefire or truce will be worth the paper it’s printed on.

Any attempt to impose peace without addressing these concerns will fall flat, at best; in the worst case, they could even exacerbate the situation.

The hurdle which a successful treaty must overcome is singular, but massive: the sharp sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region.

In particular, it must satisfactorily address the severe disenfranchisement of the Syrian Sunni majority incurred by the Shia minority holding power.

The effort will be challenging, but even if a moderately successful solution is found it could be used as a model for similar conflicts around the globe.

Never has there been more international pressure to find such a solution, particularly one which offers an unprecedented opportunity to move the world closer to peace.

Although finding an ideal solution is a pipe-dream, a successful solution can be found if the international community is up to the challenge.

Many countries have indicated their desire for peace in the region, but the country which matters most is more invested in propping up its ally than long-lasting peace.

And let us be clear: Russia is the most important country in the arena.

Its military interventions have legitimacy in its alliance with Syria, and it has the most invested in the war.

Russia can unilaterally decide to prolong the fighting if events aren’t going its way.

Since Russia’s main concern is the success of the Syrian government, it is up to other countries to pressure both Syria and Russia into a successful peace agreement.

Though delicate handling and intricate diplomatic maneuvers may be necessary, I believe a chance exists for the U.S. and her allies to create lasting peace in the region.


Leave a Reply