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January 24, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1059

Geneva 2 Conference For Resolving Syrian Crisis Convenes Amid Impossible Challenges

January 24, 2014 | By N. Mozes
Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1059

Introduction

The Geneva 2 peace conference on the Syrian crisis started January 22, 2014 in Montreux, Switzerland. Sponsored by the U.S., Russia and the U.N., it is attended by delegations of the Syrian regime and opposition, as well as delegations representing over 30 other countries, including Saudi Arabia but excluding Iran. The purpose of the conference, as stated in the invitation sent out by U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, is "to assist the Syrian parties in ending the violence and achieving a comprehensive agreement for a political settlement, implementing fully the [June 30, 2012] Geneva Communiqué [the closing statement of the Geneva 1 conference]."[1]

The conference comprises two parts. The first, ceremonial, part, held on January 22, was chaired by Ban and attended by the Syrian delegations and the foreign ministers of the other countries represented at the conference. The second part, to start on January 24, is to involve indirect talks between the delegations of the Syrian regime and opposition, mediated by Special U.N. Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. According to reports, there will be no direct contact between the two Syrian delegations, which indicates the extent of the disagreements between them.

The Syrian regime delegation is headed by Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem and also includes Information Minister 'Omran Al-Zou'bi; Dr. Buthaina Sha'ban, political advisor to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad; Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad; Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja'afari, and other officials. The delegation representing the Syrian opposition is headed by Ahmad Al-Jarba, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (henceforth, the National Coalition), and includes other senior politicians such as Michel Kilo, Burhan Ghalioun, Suheir Al-Atassi, Rima Fleihan, and 'Abd Al-Hamid Darwish of the National Kurdish Council. It includes no representatives of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

The conference is the culmination of hectic diplomatic efforts, mainly by the U.S. and Russia, who share the belief that neither of the Syrian sides can overcome the other by military force, and that the continuation of the crisis could have severe implications for the stability of the region as a whole. Furthermore, both superpowers are concerned about the growing presence in Syria of radical Islamist forces linked to Al-Qaeda and global jihad, and the danger of Syria becoming a hotbed of terror. Hence, the superpowers exerted considerable pressures on the regime and the opposition, and on their respective allies, to attend the conference. Convening it at all was a test of the superpowers' ability to exert influence on the major players in the Syrian crisis.

The Syrian crisis goes far beyond a struggle for power in this country, and is connected to much broader power-struggles – sectarian, regional and international – which threaten to thwart the success of Geneva 2. Other obstacles to the conference's success are the huge gap between the parties' positions, the power-balances on the ground, the questionable ability of the National Coalition to enforce compliance with any agreement that might be reached on the forces in the field, and the problems associated with conducting negotiations under fire.

However, no matter how slim its chances, the conference is seen by many as the last opportunity to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis in order to prevent this country from becoming a permanent source of unrest affecting the region as a whole.

This report reviews the challenges facing the conference and the respective positions of the Syrian regime and opposition.

The Challenges

I. Syria – An International and Sunni-Shi'ite Power Struggle

Unlike the events in Tunisia, in Libya, and even in Egypt, which began in 2011 as a popular protest against tyrannical regimes, and remained local revolutions, the Syrian struggle evolved from a popular protest against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad into a power struggle among regional and international elements.

Iran and its Shi'ite satellites' uncompromising support for the Syrian regime, the alignment of the Sunni camp, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the opposition, and extremist Sunni elements' entrance into the fray have all transformed Syria, like Iraq, into a Sunni-Shi'ite battleground. Furthermore, with Russia's unmistakable support for the Assad regime, and the West's, led by the U.S., for the opposition, Syria has become an arena for international power struggles as well.

Therefore, the solution to the Syria crisis no longer depends only on the good will of local elements, but also, and largely, on regional and international elements' desire to reach an understanding. This desire seems to be nonexistent in regional elements – that is, Saudi Arabia and Iran – whose struggle for power in the region is now taking place on the backs of the Syrian people.

Syria – An Arena For A Sunni-Shi'ite Struggle

As said, Syria, like Iraq, is considered one of the main arenas for the Sunni-Shi'ite struggle headed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Bashar Al-Assad's regime has always been a proud member of the resistance axis led by Iran and was considered, even before the onset of unrest in the country, a harsh opponent of the Arab world's moderate axis led by Saudi Arabia and by Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. Following the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the situation deteriorated nearly to the point of open war between Syria and Iran on one hand, and Saudi Arabia on the other. Columnist Jamal Khashoggi summed up the importance of the Syrian arena for Saudi Arabia when he wrote in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat that Iranian presence in Syria was "a threat to Saudi Arabia's national security."[2]

Iran stands by its ally Bashar Al-Assad with all its might and resources, granting him military and financial support totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as diplomatic backing. When the power balance on the ground tipped in favor of the Syrian opposition, it enlisted its proxy – Hizbullah in Lebanon – to fight alongside the Syrian regime. In addition, there are reports that forces from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other Shi'ite militias subordinate to it, especially from Iraq, are also involved in fighting alongside Assad's forces.

Saudi Arabia, on its part, placed its support behind the military and political Syrian opposition (along with Qatar and Turkey). It grants the National Coalition political and financial backing; arms and trains the Free Syrian Army (FSA); supports the Islamic Front – an umbrella organization of several "moderate" Syrian Islamic organizations – which it established to fight global jihad organizations such as Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[3] According to the Syrian regime, Saudi Arabia also funds the activity of the global jihad organizations.

In addition, Saudi Arabia works against the Assad regime in the diplomatic arena. Alongside Qatar and Turkey, it has championed harsh resolutions against the Assad regime in the Arab League, such as the decision to suspend Syria's membership in the organization, and has also initiated U.N. resolutions against this regime and against Iran's involvement in the country. Saudi Arabia has long been claiming that Syria is effectively occupied by Iran, and that Iran must withdraw its forces and Hizbullah's forces from its territory.

This Iranian-Saudi struggle was clearly reflected in the lead-up to the Geneva 2 conference. Several hours before the conference was due to begin, it was still unclear whether it would take place due to the argument over Iran's invitation. The National Coalition and Saudi Arabia strongly objected to Iran's participation, claiming that it was a main part of the problem, not the solution. In contrast, many international elements, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban and U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Brahimi, believed that Iran's attendance was vital for the success of the conference. France and the U.S. argued that Iran's participation should be conditional upon it accepting the principles of the Geneva 1 conference, which include agreeing to the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive authority – a condition that Iran strongly rejected.

As part of the preparations for the conference, the U.S. and Russia attempted to find a formula that would enable Iran's participation without causing the Syrian opposition and Saudi Arabia to boycott the conference. A U.S. official said that Iran could improve its chances of attending the conference if it took steps to show that it was serious about playing a positive role in Syria, such as persuading the regime to end the bombardment of its people and enabling humanitarian access to besieged areas.[4]

Two days before the conference was convened, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sent an invitation to Iran. According to him, this was after reaching an understanding with the Iranian foreign minister that the purpose of the negotiations was the establishment of a transitional governing body with full authority, and that Iran would play a positive role in the conference.[5]

Iran's invitation angered Saudi Arabia. The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh wrote: "We do not know who told the U.N. secretary-general to invite Iran to Geneva 2 in order to create a political problem and further disagreements. Was it the U.S... [who did this] in order to improve its relations with Iran and grant it an additional role in the conflict, or Russia, who wants support for a compromise in Syria corresponding to its worldview?... This insistence on inviting Iran opens the door to inviting Hizbullah, ISIS, and JN as well... The U.N. and its secretary-general are nothing but a pawn for those who manage the crises."[6]

However, the Iranian foreign minister denied the U.N. secretary-general's statement that understandings had been reached,[7] and the Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman announced that Iran was only willing to attend without any preconditions.[8] In response, the U.N. secretary-general rescinded the invitation, to the satisfaction of the National Coalition and Saudi Arabia.[9]


"Iran" tossed from "Geneva 2" (source: Al-Watan, Qatar, January 22, 2014)

Following this development, Iranian President Hassan Rohani expressed pessimism regarding the chances that the conference would succeed "since some supporters of terrorism [referring to Saudi Arabia] are in attendance."[10] The daily Kayhan, a mouthpiece of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote that the conference had failed before it had begun due to Iran's marginalization.[11]

The impact of Iran's absence from the conference on the regime and opposition, and on their respective allies, is mainly in terms of morale, for it is clear that Iran has and will continue to play a central role in Syria, as also indicated by statements from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the start of the conference: "Iran certainly does have an ability... to help make a difference. We hope that they will decide to be constructive...There are plenty of ways that that door [for Iran's participation] can be opened in the next weeks and months, and my hope is that they will want to join in a constructive solution."[12] Even absent from the negotiations, Iran is expected to be a major player in them and to initiate crises in order to prove that its participation is vital. It might also increase military aid to the Syrian regime in order to promote achievements on the ground and thereby influence the results of the negotiations.

Syria – An Arena For An International Power Struggle

In addition to being an arena for a regional Sunni-Shi'ite struggle, Syria is an arena for an international power struggle as well, since many countries see the Syrian crisis as a chance to establish their influence over the region and strengthen their international standing. The most prominent of these is Russia, which has historical ties to the Assad regime. Throughout the crisis, Russia has expressed unwavering support for this regime, being careful to state that it does not personally support Bashar Al-Assad but rather the Syrian state and its struggle against the terrorist organizations that are acting against it. Russia grants the Syrian regime comprehensive military, financial and diplomatic aid, thus enabling its very survival.

Moreover, throughout the crisis Russia has thwarted Security Council resolutions against the Assad regime. It also prevented Bashar Al-Assad's name from being explicitly mentioned in the Geneva 1 Communiqué and his future fate from being mentioned in the closing statement of the G-20 summit in September 2013. The summit that was held in Russia on the eve of a possible Western military strike on the Syrian regime, which never materialized due to Russia's initiative to have Syria's chemical weapons arsenal destroyed.

Concurrently, Russia is attempting to form ties with the Syrian opposition, mainly with those elements that it and the Syrian regime call "the national opposition" – meaning elements that operate from within Syria and do not call for foreign intervention or the ouster of the Assad regime. In recent months, Russia has tried to form ties with elements in the National Coalition as well, but has been largely unsuccessful.

Unlike Russia's unconditional support for the Syrian regime, the U.S.'s support for the Syrian opposition is hesitant and feeble. The U.S., which had no difficulty dropping an old ally such as Hosni Mubarak, is finding it difficult – most likely due to its bitter experience in Iraq and Afghanistan – to do the same with Bashar Al-Assad, despite the openly anti-American policies he carried out during most of his years in office. More reasons for the U.S.'s hesitance are Russia's massive support for Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the fear that Syria would become a base of Al-Qaeda and a source of instability and anarchy in the region – a situation whose early signs are already apparent – and the divisions in the Syrian opposition, which cast doubt on its ability to control post-Assad Syria.

The U.S.'s hesitant position vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis is also expressed in the issue of arming the opposition, which the U.S. opposes; the issue of the use of chemical weapons, which, despite being called a red line, did not lead the U.S. to take military action; and the question of Assad's fate. Despite statements from U.S. officials, including President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, that Assad has no legitimacy and no place in future Syria, the U.S. administration does not seem to be doing enough on this issue, possibly due to apprehensions regarding the post-Assad era.

The staunchest Western ally of the Syrian opposition is currently France, especially due the close ties it has developed with Saudi Arabia. France was the only Western country that did not cease aid to the FSA following the Islamic Front takeover of its general headquarters on the Turkish border. Its statements on Assad's fate are unequivocal; in fact, President Francois Hollande questioned the effectiveness of Geneva 2 if it did not deal with Assad ceding power, and stressed that the conference should initiate a transition of power "from Assad to the opposition, not from Assad to Assad."[13]

II. Reluctance Of Both Syrian Sides To Attend The Conference

Both the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian National Coalition, are attending the conference under duress.

The Syrian Regime: International Climate Favors Us

The Syrian regime currently feels that it enjoys the upper hand. The September 2013 agreement on the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal and the November 2013 understandings between the P5+1and Iran regarding the latter's nuclear program have immeasurably improved the international standing of the Syrian regime and its ally Iran. Both agreements prove beyond a doubt that the international community, and particularly the U.S., wish to avoid military measures, as far as possible, in favor of diplomatic measures. Moreover, although under the agreement for dismantling its chemical arsenal, the Syrian regime gave up its strategic weapons, it managed to ward off an almost certain military attack that could be militarily and morally devastating from its perspective and would have significantly improved the opposition's position. Furthermore, the agreement effectively grants international recognition to the Syrian regime and an implicit guarantee that it will remain in power until mid-2014, the target date for the destruction of all its chemical weapons. The agreement on the destruction of the chemical weapons – a Russian initiative – also strengthened Russia, the Syrian regime's ally in the international arena.

Additionally, the growing power and presence of global jihad groups in Syria, at the expense of the moderate opposition, lends credibility to the regime's claim that it is waging a struggle against radical terrorist and Islamist organizations and that the choice is between it and organizations supporting Al Qaeda. The fact that many of the Islamist organizations' fighters have arrived from Europe also helps the regime to portray itself as fighting terrorism and thus to restore its legitimacy, as reflected by the increasing reports about renewed contacts between Western intelligence and security bodies and the Syrian regime in an attempt to collaborate in the fight against terrorism.

Total Objection To Ceding Power:

Given this perception of its position, the regime firmly refuses to discuss ceding power to a transitional governing body. A notice by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that the Syrian regime would participate in the conference but that it disagreed with "a number of points that appear [in the invitation,] because they do not correspond to the Syrian state's legal and diplomatic position and to the Syrian people's supreme interests..."[14] The notice did not specify which points the regime rejected, but the reference is clearly to the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, which means a transfer of power. Noting the points specifically would have meant rejecting the invitation, which asserts explicitly that accepting it means accepting the Geneva 1 Communiqué calling for the establishment of such a body.

Likewise, senior regime officials, including Bashar Al-Assad himself, reiterate that they do not intend to cede power and that Assad will remain until the end of his term, and will present his candidacy in the next presidential elections. On the eve of his departure for Geneva, Foreign Minister Al Mu'allem said that the issues of the president and regime are "red lines for us and for the Syrian people, and... must not be harmed."[15]

Instead of a transitional governing body, the regime proposes establishing a broad national unity government, and also demands to put the outcomes of Geneva 2 to a referendum. In addition, from the regime's perspective, Geneva 2 marks the beginning of an intra-Syrian dialogue to take place in Syria itself.

The Regime's Points Of Vulnerability

Despite the regime's show of supreme self-confidence regarding the conference, it did make a number of concessions under heavy pressure from Russia, which is cosponsoring the conference together with the U.S., and in order to avoid being held responsible for scuttling international efforts to resolve the crisis. First, its very presence at the conference, which, according to the invitation, seeks to form a transitional body with full powers, is an implied concession (although, as said, the regime's response to the invitation stated that it disagreed with some of the conference objectives). Second, despite previous declarations by the regime that it would not negotiate with the National Coalition, which it considers an artificial body formed by foreign forces and unrepresentative of the Syrian people, or with the armed bodies, which it regards as "terrorists," the regime agreed to attend the conference and deal with an opposition delegation that was formed by the National Coalition and is headed by it. Moreover, the opposition delegation does not include people and groups preferable to the regime, such as Qadri Jamil, leader of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation and until recently deputy prime minister for economic affairs, or the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, an opposition body operating within Syria that has more lenient views regarding the Syrian regime, compared to the National Coalition. Foreign Minister Mu'allem referred to this prior to his departure for Switzerland and blamed the U.S. and the U.N., saying: "It seems that the U.S. failed to form an acceptable delegation from the Syrian opposition, as envisaged by U.N. Security Council resolution 2118, and the U.N. likewise succumbed to Western pressures and failed to invite elements from the national opposition in Syria."[16] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed a similar position in his address at the conference's opening. He emphasized that all groups comprising Syrian society must participate in the dialogue, including members of the Syrian national opposition.[17]

Finally, the regime is participating in the conference even though Iran, its major ally, will not officially participate (though, as said, it will most likely exert considerable influence behind the scenes).


A starved Syrian corpse on its way to Geneva 2 (Al-Hayat, London, January 17, 2014)

The Syrian Opposition's Apprehentions About Attending The Conference

The Syrian opposition, both its political and its armed branches, likewise expressed apprehension about attending the conference, since in its present format it means negotiating with the regime and forgoing the opposition's preconditions, such as announcing a ceasefire, opening safe passages for humanitarian aid, and releasing detainees. The opposition fears it will be forced into far-reaching concessions, due to its military disadvantage vis-à-vis the regime and various developments in the international arena. It also fears that the conference will restore Assad's international legitimacy and prolong the life expectancy of his regime.

The military disadvantage

Unlike in June 2012, when the armed opposition had the upper hand, today the regime has managed to stop the rebels' advance and gain victories on the ground – which weakens the opposition's position in the talks. The opposition's weakness results from the FSA's shortage of funds and arms, versus the almost unlimited sources of arms and personnel provided to the Syrian regime by its allies. It also results from the lack of unity among the forces fighting in the field: the FSA, headed by Salim Idris and subordinate to the National Coalition, has almost no control over the situation on the ground, and radical Islamist organizations like ISIS and JN, which are well-armed and well-organized, have drawn away many of its fighters. In many cases the FSA has been forced to fight simultaneously on two fronts: against the regime and against the extremists, which has depleted its limited strength even further. Moreover, competing umbrella organizations have recently emerged, such as the Islamic Front, now considered to be the major body of opposition forces.

The international front

On the international front, the last few months' detente between the West, headed by the U.S., and Iran, Assad's strategic ally, has sparked fear among the opposition that the U.S. might soften its stance vis-à-vis Assad and his regime. The American-Russian agreement on dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal, which enabled the West to avoid a military strike against the Syrian regime in retaliation for the latter's August 2013 chemical attack, was a sore blow to the opposition, which had pinned much hope on such a strike. It also clarified to the opposition that the U.S. was determined to reach a solution for the Syrian crisis that would suit its purposes. The U.S designation of JN as a terrorist organization was another warning signal to the opposition that the U.S. might change its position and prefer the struggle against the extremist forces over the ousting of Bashar Al-Assad. Yet another warning signal was the reported rapprochement between Western security and intelligence apparatuses and the Syrian regime as part of the war on the terror organizations – a development which impedes the opposition's attempts to delegitimize the regime.

Ultimately, however, the National Coalition agreed to participate in Geneva 2 following intensive pressures, mainly by the U.S. These pressures, which reportedly included threats to withdraw U.S. support from the coalition,[18] caused it to drop some of its preconditions, such as the demand to release detainees and lift the siege from some regions controlled by the opposition,[19] and the demand to set out a timetable for the negotiations and specify sanctions to be imposed on either side it if does not commit to implementing the agreement.

That said, the coalition did rack up some achievements, such as Iran's exclusion from the convention, and foiling the attempts of the regime and its allies, mainly Russia, to split the opposition's representation into three delegations, which would include bodies such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, considered more moderate in its stance towards the regime, and figures like former Syrian deputy prime minister for economic affairs Qadri Jamil, suspected of collaborating with the regime. Furthermore, the objective of the convention, as defined in the U.N. secretary-general's invitation, is to form a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as demanded by the National Coalition and its allies, rather than combating terror, as demanded by the regime and its allies

III. The Dispute Over the Conference's Objectives

The opposition and its allies view the conference's objective as the transfer of power and the resigning of Assad and his associates. In contrast, the Syrian regime and its allies totally reject a power transfer and the formation of a transitional government body, and are working to achieve a situation where the anti-terrorism struggle will top the list of the conference's priorities. The notice sent by Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem to the U.N. secretary-general confirming the regime's participation at the conference stated that, according to the regime's understanding, the conference's objectives should be "the struggle against the terror employed against all sectors of our people, the drying up of its sources, and a demand that all states supporting it desist from financing, arming, training and providing sanctuary to terrorist groups."[20] Throughout the crisis the Syrian regime has termed all the armed fighters opposing it "terrorists". Therefore, it is clear that the regime's objective is to stop all forms of armed opposition to it, including that of the moderate elements in the opposition.

As for the Saudi persepctive, in his speech at the conference opening, Saudi Foreign Minister Sa'ud Al-Faisal said that his country had agreed to attend "based on guarantees and emphases in the U.N. secretary-general's invitation that the purpose of the conference was the full implementation of the Geneva 1 Communiqué... [namely] declaring the formation of a translational government with full authorities." He added: "Clearly, Assad and the senior officials of his regime who have blood on their hands will not have a part in this settlement, now or in the future." Al-Faisal warned against attempts to change the course of the conference or distance it from its goals "in a desperate effort to improve the regime's image and claim it is fighting terror."[21]

IV. The Conduction Of Negotiations Under Fire And Lack Of A Binding Timetable

Both sides are expected to try to strengthen their position in the negotiations by escalating the fighting on the ground in order to gain military achievements. This possibility seems especially likely since the U.S. and Russia failed in their efforts to promote a ceasefire and exchange of prisoners in Aleppo as a confidence-building measure ahead of the conference. Moreover, contrary to the Syrian opposition's demand, the U.N. secretary-general's invitation did not set a timetable for the negotiations; the absence of a timetable allows both sides to attempt to create facts on the ground by escalating the armed struggle.

V. Limited National Council And FSA Control Over What Is Taking Place In Syria

The National Council arrives at the conference more weakened and divided than ever. Nearly 40 members of the National Council have recently announced their resignation from the coalition due to disputes regarding its management and its participation at the Geneva 2 conference. Likewise, civilian opposition elements who are not National Council members, such as the National Coordinating Committee and Kurdish groups, challenge the organization's legitimacy to represent the revolution and the Syrian people. FSA control in the field is questionable due to the welter of armed groups operating there, who do not obey its directives, and particularly global jihad bodies such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS. Given this situation, it is doubtful whether the National Council will be able to impose any understandings reached in the negotiations on the bodies fighting in the field.

In light of all this, it is unclear whether an agreement reached between the regime and the National Council will ultimately have any significance – even assuming that an agreement can be reached – and whether the fighting groups will respect the National Council's directives.

It should be mentioned, however, that in recent weeks, the Islamic Front has been waging a deadly war against ISIS, in collaboration with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which is subordinate to the FSA. This may be an attempt by Islamic Front's patrons –Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to extirpate the jihadist organizations from Syria, or at least minimize their presence, in order to provide a more accommodating atmosphere for the National Council at the negotiations.

It should also be noted that the Islamic Front, the main fighting body in the Syrian opposition, which is not subordinate to FSA, did not declare its opposition to the National Coalition's participation in Geneva 2. The front did state in an announcement that "the true military and political forces among our people did not empower any Syrian party to relinquish the people's rights and concede their demands," and set conditions for implementing any political solution, including the release of prisoners, an end to the siege and bombardments, and the resignation of Assad and his associates. But nothing in writing excluded the Coalition's participation in the conference.[22]

The Conference Has Slim Chances Of Success

In light of these numerous challenges, it seems that the conference's greatest achievement is its very existence. However, its chances of yielding any political settlement that will end the crisis in Syria, which has so far resulted in over 130,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, and millions displaced, are very slim. The Syrian regime has in fact stated in several occasions that the conference would be futile. In November 2013, Assad said: "At present I see nothing that can be agreed upon in Geneva 2, especially considering that some labor under the illusion that we are going there in order to cede power."[23] On another occasion he said: "We will go to Geneva 2... but we believe it will not benefit anyone in any way."[24]

Articles in the Saudi press have likewise expressed doubt about the conference's chances of success, despite Saudi Arabia's participation in it. The daily Al-Watan contended that the conference would fail due to Russia's and Iran's support for Assad's remaining in power.[25] The daily Al-Yawm stated: "Neither the Arabs nor the Syrian's believe that the conference will yield any measure that will give the Syrians any hope of freeing themselves of the regime that has turned Syria into a large prison... This, because the Syrian regime and its patrons in Tehran and Moscow do not seem to be taking this conference sufficiently seriously, but rather see it as an opportunity to gain time and prolong the crisis..."[26]

*N. Mozes is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Hayat (London), January 9, 2014.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), June 15, 2013. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1032, Saudis Infuriated, Insulted By U.S. Efforts At Rapprochement With Iran, November 1, 2013.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), November 29, 2013. See MEMRI JTTM, The Islamic Front – A Rising Force In Syria, January 21, 2014.

[4] Alarabiya.net, January 6, 2014.

[5] Al-Hayat (London), January 20, 2014.

[6] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), January 22, 2014.

[7] Farsnews.com, January 21, 2014.

[8] Farsnews.com, January 20, 2014.

[9] The Lebanese daily Al-Safir reported that, following the invitation, Saudi Arabia told the National Coalition to cancel its participation, which in turn caused the U.S. to pressure the U.N. secretary-general to rescind the invitation to Iran. Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 21, 2014.

[10] Fars (Iran), January 22, 2014.

[11] Kayhan (Iran), January 22, 2014.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), January 23, 201;. State.gov , January 22, 2014.

[13] Dp-news.com, December 21, 2013.

[14] Syria-news.com, January 16, 2014.

[15] SANA (Syria), January 22, 2014.

[16] SANA (Syria), January 22, 2014.

[17] Champress, January 22, 2014.

[18] Bbc.co.uk, theguardian.com, January 13, 2014.

[19] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 3, 2013.

[20] Syria-news.com, January 16, 2014.

[21] Al-Hayat (London), January 23, 2014.

[22] Twitter.com/Islamic_front, January 20, 2014.

[23] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 20, 2014.

[24] Al-Rai (Kuwait), January 18, 2014.

[25] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 12, 2014.

[26] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), January 22, 2014.

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