Major powers meeting in Vienna have failed to reach an agreement on Syria, especially the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but found enough “common ground” to meet for a new round of talks in two weeks, even as the conflict enters a new phase with the deployment of US special forces in the war-torn country.
“There were tough conversations today,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference on Friday. “This is the beginning of a new diplomatic process.”
Kerry acknowledged that those present have major differences on the Assad regime.
Remember, you heard it here first. Or, well, you heard it here, anyway. An agreement to keep talking was the best that could have reasonably been expected, and frankly the fact that they not only agreed to keep talking but set a firm date for the next round of talks, and only a scant two weeks from now, is kind of encouraging. According to The New York Times, the US and Russia talked about ways to begin to coordinate their efforts in Syria beyond simply staying out of each other’s way, which could be good maybe, and it sounds like the Saudi and Iranian representatives had a lot of angry words for each other:
The most heated conversations took place between Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir. Both are American educated – Mr. Zarif at the University of Denver, Mr. Jubeir at Georgetown University – and both have deep connections with the American government. But until a few days ago the Saudis were refusing to sit in the same room with the Iranians, and they spent much of the meeting, one official said, “voicing grievances and accusations,” which Mr. Kerry had to try to get past in order to win agreement on basic principles.
Seriously, at least they’re talking to one another, which is a damn sight more than they were doing last week. Baby steps, people.
I’ve seen some complaints crop up in the past couple of days that these Syrian talks didn’t include any actual Syrians. This sounds like a complaint I might make (and actually have made in the past), so I’m very sympathetic to it, but I think it may be a little misguided. The “Syrians,” meaning the (presumably non-extremist) rebels on the one hand and Assad on the other, show no signs of interest in talking with one another yet, and part of the purpose of these international talks is to create the conditions under which each side’s patrons will then be willing to pressure their Syrian proxies to stop fighting and start talking. Yes, if there are never any Syrians involved in the Syrian peace talks, that would be extremely bad and pretty dumb. But at this stage, while Assad feels no reason to talk because he’s got Iran and Russia in his corner and while the rebels feel no reason to talk because America (sort of), Turkey, and the Saudis are backing their play, its those patrons who need to find some common ground first, so that they can then nudge the Syrian sides along. There’s no guarantee they’ll eventually be able to do that, by the way, but at this point, with so many international actors having meddled in Syria’s war, it’s hard to see how you can approach the Syrians about a peace deal until you have all those meddlers on the same page.
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