UN puts bets on contact group to end Syria crisis | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 09.06.2012
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Middle East

UN puts bets on contact group to end Syria crisis

With his peace plan in shambles, special envoy Kofi Annan is now calling for a broad, all-inclusive Syria contact group to be formed. Experts, however, see little chance of a negotiated solution from the outside.

Even UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has admitted that his peace plan for Syria has largely failed. After another UN Security Council meeting in New York came and went without results, Annan called for a Syrian contact group to be formed. The former UN secretary-general wants the five veto powers- China, France, Russia the United Kingdom and the United States - and the countries of the Mideast to participate. France signaled on Friday that it was ready to join such a dialogue.

All of the regional powers that have an influence on the Syrian government or the opposition should be included in a possible contact group, according to Annan's calculus. But the planned inclusion of Iran presents a diplomatic problem. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has gruffly rejected the idea of Iranian participation. Tehran is a part of the problem and actively supports the government of President Bashar al-Assad in its violent campaign against the opposition, according to the US ambassador.

Lebanese crisis diplomacy

Russia is already working on a solution to the conflict behind the scenes, which foresees a diplomatic conference that would include Iran, said Erik Mohns of the Centre of Contemporary Middle East Studies at the University of Odense in Denmark. But Mohns, who taught international relations at Kalamoon University near Damascus from 2006-2008, sees little chance that the Russian proposal will succeed. The US does not want to sit at the same table as representatives from Iran and plan Syria's future with them.

Free Syrian Army fighters try to spot a sniper during fighting with Syrian troops in a suburb of Damascus

Mohns believes that Syria is already in a state of civil war

It's not just Russian diplomacy that's pulling its strings in the region. The Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul in order to discuss the situation in Syria. And just recently the Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, met with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh, according to Mohns.

"For me, that means that Lebanon is anticipating the end of the Assad regime," Mohns told DW. "The Lebanese would have never dared to hold direct talks with Saudi Arabia, Syria's mortal enemy, if Assad was still at the height of his power."

Weapons for regime change

It's considered an open secret that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are delivering weapons to the rebels with the aim of toppling the Assad regime, an Iranian ally, in order to check the influence of Tehran in the region. For around three decades there has been a geo-strategic symbiosis between the Assad Regime and Iran, according to Volker Perthes of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

"For Iran, it's important to have access to the Levant, to Lebanon, and also to the Israeli border by way of Syria," Perthes told DW.

In the current conflict, the Arab states are pursuing goals similar to those of their Western allies, said Mohns, who believes that they are already going well beyond what's said on the diplomatic stage.

"The US, the Gulf states and the Europeans unquestionably want a regime change in Damascus," Mohns said.

International envoy Kofi Annan speaks during a press conference upon arrival at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus, Syria on 28 May 2012. Annan arrived in Syria on 28 May 2012 for talks with Syrian officials on ways to end ongoing fighting in the country. He is now in the hotel where the observers are staying, a source said. He is expected to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Annan has largely admitted that his own peace plan has failed on the ground

In order to achieve these goals, the rebels are not just being supplied with weapons, mostly from the Gulf states via Syrian businesspeople. There are indications that the rebels are also being supplied with information from foreign intelligence agencies, according to Mohns.

Little chance of an outside solution

At the diplomatic level, it's still being emphasized that a civil war must be avoided in Syria. But the reality on the ground can hardly be called anything other than a civil war, according to Mohns, who sees no real chance for an internationally negotiated solution. He believes that "the state will collapse for many months or years and the conflict will continue to smolder."

Volker Perthes views Russia as the key to prevent Syria from completely descending into chaos.

"As long as Bashar Al-Assad and his entourage don't notice Russia taking distance, then they won't feel sufficiently isolated," Perthes said. "The disconnect from reality that has occurred within the presidential palace probably makes it necessary for someone from the outside, someone they trust, to say that the game is actually already over."

Erik Mohns remains skeptical. Even if a Yemen-like solution occurs in Syria, and Assad can be forced into exile, it does not mean that the military conflict will end. In contrast, Mohns fears a drawn out civil war. He already sees the signs of a civil war economy in Syria: the rise in crime, the precipitous jump in kidnappings, the emergence of mafia-like structures and the emigration of many educated well-to-do Syrians abroad.

Author: Thomas Kohlmann / slk
Editor: Richard Connor

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