Project unity: Today’s conference on Syria is an opportunity for progress at last

With Syria in military stalemate, there is no alternative but to seek a political solution

Share

Mixed messages over the much-delayed international conference on Syria at the weekend hardly augur well. As soon as the head of the Arab League had made clear that the long-awaited “Geneva 2” meeting would begin on 23 November, the UN envoy to Syria denied that a date was fixed. Talks with Qatar and Turkey, and after that the US and Russia, must take place first, he said.

A trivial tussle over the diplomatic limelight? Perhaps; but not entirely. The episode is also emblematic of a civil war that now has so many participants, with so many different agendas, and excites such conflicting international interests, that it appears almost irresolvable. But today’s meeting in London between Syrian opposition groups and 11 so-called Friends of Syria – including the US, France and Saudi Arabia – is no less important for all that.

There are a host of difficulties in persuading Syria’s opposition to the negotiating table, on 23 November or at any other time. But without them, Geneva 2 cannot happen; and the Syrian National Coalition meets in Istanbul next week to decide whether to participate, with the threat that its largest faction will walk out if it does.

Today is, then, a crucial opportunity to make the case. With Syria mired in military stalemate, there is no alternative but to seek a political solution. And with religious extremism taking hold among many rebel groups on the ground, the moderate opposition must seize the chance of talks or risk advancing Bashar al-Assad’s spurious claim that his appalling violence is a necessary response to rising Islamism.

All responsibility does not rest with the opposition, however. Above all, the international community must stand together. It is not impossible. In the aftermath of the gas attacks in Ghouta in August, it was as much Russian pressure as the threat of US air strikes that forced Assad’s hand. The momentum must be kept up, the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria must be met with the same urgency as was the issue of chemical weapons. That means more aid, of course; but it also means a united front in demanding meaningful transition plans from the Assad regime; and it means hammering through tricky diplomatic issues such as the involvement of Iran.

All of which presents formidable challenges. But there is no alternative. There has been a false sense of progress in recent weeks, after Damascus’ capitulation over chemical weapons. While welcome, so isolated a success only underlines the failure of two-plus years of international bickering. Nor can Assad’s spasm of realpolitik-inspired co-operation over his sarin stocks distract attention from the ongoing brutality of his regime and the untold suffering he has unleashed by clinging to power.

Even if constructive, today’s meeting in London is but a small step on the long and difficult road to Geneva. But one small step is better than none at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The rules were simple: before the results are announced, don’t mention the S-word

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Howard Jacobson has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for the second time  

In praise of Howard Jacobson

Simon Kelner
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week