So, it was left to the leader of the Syrian opposition Nasr Al Hariri to challenge the United Nations, its Syria envoy, and the world community to acknowledge that the regime of President Bashar Al Assad is rejecting peace negotiations in Geneva. On Tuesday, when talks resumed between the opposition and UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura — who has described himself as a ‘chronic optimist’ — the regime delegation did not show up.
The contempt with which the regime is treating the Geneva talks is based on the fact that it believes that it has the upper hand, militarily and politically — thanks to the limitless backing it has received from its two big supporters, Iran and Russia. Content in this belief, it has also found it fit to embarrass its main international patron, Moscow, by not coming back for the talks. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin had said a political settlement should be finalised within the UN’s Geneva process. The crux of the problem, from the perspective of the regime, seems to be the Syrian opposition’s position that it remains committed to a political transition in which Al Assad would have no role.
With this convenient excuse in hand, and while only paying lip service to the ‘peace process’, the regime is continuing full steam with its scorched-earth policies of indiscriminate aerial bombardment in urban areas, siege warfare, torture and extrajudicial killings.
As global powers talk about ‘peace’, the bodies pile up in Eastern Gouta and Idlib. Opposition spokesman Yahya Aridi called on the UN and allies of Al Assad to halt a bombing campaign that has escalated in the past three weeks, with about 850 people killed and injured in Eastern Gouta. The area has been under a cruel regime siege for years. Even horrific images of dead or emaciated children have not been enough to rally the world community to seriously look for an end to the Syrian war.
The fact that the regime is not taking the Geneva talks seriously will impact Russia indirectly. Russia sees itself as the world power that can bring the Syrian conflict to an end. But there is a clear realisation in Moscow that for this to happen, any final deal should have the blessings of the international community. And that is where the UN comes in, as no other international organisation can bestow more international credibility.