Nearly three years after the start of the uprising against the Assad regime, the Syrian crisis appears nowhere near an end. Having produced enormous human costs as well as humanitarian and security challenges, the conflict continues to destabilize the region. Geneva II has failed to make any meaningful progress toward the resolution of the conflict. As the regime and the opposition see the negotiations in diametrically opposing terms, the fate of negotiations remains uncertain. Cooperation between the outside powers such as the US and Turkey seems insufficient yet critically important to help bring an end to the conflict.
Ufuk Ulutas, Director, Foreign Policy Program, SETA Ankara
Mark Perry, Independent Author
Mesut Ozcan, Chairman, Center for Strategic Research, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey
Kilic Kanat, Non-Resident Scholar, SETA DC
By Sally Judson and Nicole Burnett
Mr. Ozcan began by examining Turkey’s foreign policy towards Syria, which has changed dramatically. While Turkish-Syrian relations were problematic for decades, positive ties were established in the early-2000s. However, with the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Turkey made the difficult decision to break ties with the Assad regime and side with the popular demand for democratic change. Mr. Ozcan stated that Ankara has supported the Geneva II negotiations and is actively trying to find a solution to the crisis. He stressed that the UNSC should pass the draft resolution on humanitarian aid access and insisted that the international community do more to force the regime to discuss a transitional governing body.
Ufuk Ulutas expanded on the issues complicating the current negotiations. First, both sides are convinced that victory is possible, which ensures unwillingness to compromise. Second, the opposition is weak, as its foreign supporters are not doing as much as those who back the Assad regime. Lastly, the conflict has been asymmetrical from the beginning, with the regime receiving financial support from Iran, diplomatic assistance from Russia, and military backing from proxy groups such as Hezbollah. Mr. Ulutas argued that the international community must offer greater military support for the opposition to tip the balance and force Assad to compromise. He stated that the crisis has directly impacted Turkey, resulting in economic problems and security threats. Mr. Ulutas concluded that the situation is not sustainable for Turkey in the long-term.
Mark Perry addressed the question “what now?” in order to better understand how all parties can move forward to bring an end to the conflict in Syria. He postulated that the current situation within the country can be compared to two different historical events: the “Anbar Awakening” and the Spanish Civil War. The process of adopting al-Qaeda as a target rather than an ally (the Anbar Awakening) and action against the government while coping with opposition infighting (the Spanish Civil War) mirror the difficult issues currently faced in Syria. Mr. Perry stated that the primary way to work through these challenges is to properly identify the conflict’s centers of gravity, which he states are Bashar al-Assad and his regime and Tehran. Although the Obama administration is reluctant to do so, the Geneva II conference is now at a point where the international community needs to “get to the other side” with Iran and further progress requires cooperation from Iranian leadership. Mr. Perry concluded by asserting that it is important for the US to understand that the leverage it does have in this situation is political and diplomatic in nature and that it must develop new ways to use it.