President Bashar al-Assad says he would like to include the opposition in Syria's postwar government. Professor Günter Meyer of Mainz University says this makes a breakthrough almost appear possible.
DW:Assad, opposition spar Syria's transitionSyrian President Bashar al-Assad says he expects to form a government that would include the opposition in a relatively rapid and uncomplicated manner. What do you think about this statement?
Meyer: At the end of the second round of talks in Geneva, the UN's special representative for Syria, Staffan di Mistura, presented a 12-point program containing the fundamental principles of what a future Syrian state will look like. This program, which was agreed to informally, promotes a democratic, secular state that is based on political pluralism. That is what Assad was making reference to when he declared his readiness to create a government that includes the opposition. However, his opponents anticipate that only handpicked opposition will be allowed in, which is something that would be rejected.
Thus far Assad has insisted that the transitional government would be built under the framework of the existing agreement.
Yes. And a new agreement is something that can and should only follow a vote that has been undertaken by the Syrian people. Which means that, under the conditions of the current agreement, Assad remains in office provisionally. The opposition, however, rejects this idea. The US government has likewise said that Assad's remaining in power in a transitional government is out of the question.
How would you judge the timing of this declaration? Russia has put a hold on its strikes against the "Islamic State" (IS) and Russia accuses Turkish NGOs in Syriaopposition groups. Could that possibly have anything to do with this statement?
According to the decisive passage of Russia's declaration, a large portion of the troops will be pulled out. To date, however, we can only assume that a maximum of one quarter of the troops have been removed. Beyond that, Putin has very clearly said that he supports the Assad regime now as he has in past. The recent events in Palmyra, in which government troops successfully recaptured the city, were only possible through close cooperation with Russia. About 500 runs by Russian jets, during which more than 2,000 targets were bombed, laid the groundwork for this success. The Russian air force played a major role in this respect. It has also come to light that Russian special forces troops took part in operations on the ground. Reports out of Moscow have a Russian officer dying as "a hero" in the struggle for Palmyra. He had been surrounded by IS troops, and from his position managed to fire on and kill a number of IS fighters. Russia is clearly then just as active in Syria's civil war as it had been before. Its massive military support for the Assad regime is something that Putin will carry on.
What do you think about Assad's declaration? Will it come to fruition? Can what the moderate opposition has worked for since the beginning of the rebellion be realized?
The large majority of the opposition has rejected a new beginning with Assad out of hand. At the next round of negotiations in Geneva, everything will revolve around the alternative between Assad's stepping down and his taking part in the transitional government. Russia has clearly stated support for Assad. The delegation taking part in the negotiations on behalf of the regime has even said that they are not prepared to discuss the question of ending Assad's political career. These contradictory positions will be the focus of the continuation of the talks, currently slated for April 9.
What if the possibility of an agreement for a new government were to arise? What could be expected?
We'll see if there's a chance for a peaceful solution - or if the negotiations fall apart. Still, the pressure put on the negotiating sides by Russia, as well as the pressure coming from the United States, is enormous and could lead to a solution. The opposition is releasing background information to the effect that Russia and the US have already agreed for Assad and his family and supporters to leave the country. That is, of course, the targeted release of propaganda.
IS has been noticeably weakened. How do you view their future, especially in respect to Europe and the danger of terror attacks?
Militarily speaking, IS is in retreat in Syria and Iraq. There is a good chance to follow up on the retaking of Palmyra by hitting IS in their Syrian heartland by taking their declared capital of Raqqa from the north with the US-supported, Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. At the same time, action from south by the government troops with the support of Hezbollah, working with Iranian and Iraqi fighters and Afghan Hazara could advance. In a short time, IS's military in Syria would be hard hit.
Which wouldn't necessarily bring it down.
No. Because in the meantime, thousands of IS fighters have been moved from Syria to Libya. Libya is a failed state. That's where IS clearly sees its future, which means that even a military defeat in Syria and Iraq would not spell the end for the terror organization. Beyond that, the danger of attacks by IS fighters returning to Europe is growing. It is not possible to fully wipe IS out.