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Syrian peace offer

Kersten Knipp / aiDecember 18, 2012

Syria's vice president wants to negotiate with the opposition. In an interview he suggested the idea of a transitional government - but the opposition is hesitant to sit down and talk with the hated regime.

Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa (picture: EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

If weapons are no longer getting you anywhere, then it's time for words. That seems to be what the Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa was saying in an interview with Lebanese daily Al Akhbar on Monday (17.12.2012). In the interview, al-Sharaa admitted indirectly that the Assad government no longer believed a military victory over the rebels was possible.

The conflict could not be won by either side militarily, he said. Instead of further destroying the country, it was therefore better to strive for a ceasefire and to begin negotiations on a unity government. Syria's neighbors and the UN Security Council would also have to be involved in this "historic solution" to the conflict, al-Sharaa said.

Walid al-Bunni, a veteran with the Syrian opposition, was hesitant about al-Sharaa's offer. He told the dpa news agency in Beirut that the offer came too late. "And we can not accept that people who kill the Syrian people will remain in power," he added.

Assad seeks military solution

What makes al-Sharaa's statement so interest is the fact that it does not seem to stem from any new awareness by the government but merely out of necessity: there just doesn't seem to be any other option anymore. Al-Sharaa admits that Bashar Assad himself actually prefers a different solution: "He doesn't hide his preference for a military solution - a solution which would lead to a final victory. If there were to be a political dialogue after that, it would be based on the [military] facts."

But it could be that those facts have changed in a way that the regime doesn't believe a military solution is possibly anymore. Several days ago, Sadiq al-Mousllie, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council in Germany, said that the opposition Free Syrian Army had made significant progress in fighting the government troops: "The regime is being pushed back ever further."

Damaged poster of Syria’s President Bashar Assad (photo:Narciso Contreras/AP/dapd)
The Free Syrian Army says they're making steady advancesImage: AP

Doubts among the allies

That seems to be Iran's view too. The country is one of Assad's closest allies, but Tehran has also called for a national reconciliation committee with the task of preparing for a transitional government.

Doubts are also growing in Moscow. The Russian government no longer seems to think the fall of Assad all that unlikely. But, according to political analyst Raghida Dergham writing in the daily Al Hayat, it might be too late for a credible change of policy from the Kremlin.

She says that Russia is paying a hefty price for Putin's policy on Syria: "The Kremlin is losing its connection with Syria as well as with the whole region. It's too late for any big deal, and that means it's too late for Russia to play a forward-looking and honorable role in the region."

Should the offer by Syria's vice president be serious, this could be an opportunity to prevent more bloodshed. But it's unlikely that all the fighters on both sides would uphold a ceasefire: too much blood has been shed for words to be able to replace weapons from one day to the next.