Will prospects emerge of stopping the bloodshed in Syria?
An international, ministerial-level conference on ending the civil war in Syria was held on Wednesday and Thursday in Montreux, Switzerland.
After nearly three years of bloodshed, the conference brought representatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration and anti-regime forces to the negotiating table for the first time. This must be used as a chance to work toward realising peace.
The conference was held under the auspices of the United Nations, with representatives attending from more than 40 countries, including Japan and the United States, and international organisations. Based on the agreement hammered out by the countries involved in the 2012 Geneva talks, the participants discussed the establishment of a transitional government that would include anti-regime forces.
But the ministerial conference saw the differing views of representatives from the Assad administration and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as they criticised each other while dragging in other participants. This may underscore the grim prospects ahead.
Branding the civil war as a “battle against terrorism”, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem aggressively criticised the opposition forces. One factor behind his hard-line stance could be the strengthening of the country’s diplomatic position due to its cooperation in relinquishing chemical weapons and the fact that government forces have been maintaining superiority on the battlefield. Russia supported the position of the Assad government.
The president of the National Coalition, on the other hand, called for the exit of Assad and the establishment of a transitional government afterward. However, the coalition has not been able to bring together the anti-regime forces, with groups under its umbrella leaving one after another. The international community’s confidence in the coalition is limited.
The United States sided with the Syrian National Coalition. This came against a backdrop of many countries, including Britain and Japan, endorsing a plan to establish a transitional government including the coalition, but not explicitly calling for the ouster of Assad.
The death toll from the Syrian civil war has topped 120,000, and about 9 million people have been forced to flee outside the country or become internally displaced.
The relevant countries must do more to end the hostilities as early as possible.
Taking advantage of the turmoil, radical Islam groups related to al-Qaeda have been ramping up their influence, complicating the situation further.
The Assad administration and the National Coalition are scheduled to hold direct negotiations in Geneva, following the just-ended ministerial conference in Switzerland.
Of note is the fact that the foreign ministers of the United States and Russia have proposed a ceasefire limited to Syria’s northern province of Aleppo.
The negotiations are certain to face rough going. But if at least a partial ceasefire can be realised, it will become possible for humanitarian assistance to be delivered to inhabitants in the regions where the conflict is taking place. Full efforts must be made to build a consensus on the matter.