Deadlocked Syria talks ‘hostage’ to international interests

General view during a meeting of a delegation of Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) with UN Special Envoy for Syria during peace talks at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, Switzerland, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini/Pool

Neither Syrian rebels nor the government of Bashar al-Assad will have any sway in shaping a political solution to end the country’s six-year civil war, which is now hostage to international interests, a senior opposition member said.

United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday he hoped to reconvene peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva in July, although that would depend on the progress made in setting up “de-escalation” zones in Syria.

Since a resumption of negotiations last year, there have been multiple rounds brokered by the United Nations between representatives of the two sides, but scant progress.

“There is no solution for now. There hasn’t been one inch of progress (in Geneva). There is neither a political or military solution. It’s a total impasse,” Monzer Makhous, a member and spokesman of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), told Reuters.

The HNC, which includes political and armed groups, is backed in particular by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Western states.

However, its influence has diminished as government-backed forces have taken back significant territory and a US-led coalition has focused its support on the ground to Kurdish groups fighting Islamic State militants.

Makhous said his group would not abandon talks in Geneva as it was still vital to demonstrate that they were ready find a political solution compared to the government delegation that was doing its best to block it. But he acknowledged it was no longer in Syrian hands.

“There is no real Syrian willpower today. It has been totally marginalized. We are hostages to regional and international interests,” he said.

Makhous, who is also the HNC’s envoy to France, said any real breakthrough would only come if Assad-backer Russia and the United States with Europe and regional actors imposed a solution that did the minimum to meet the aspirations of the people.

The HNC has repeatedly demanded that Assad step aside as part of any solution.

“We won’t be dropped (by our supporters), but the priorities have changed. The Assad problem is no longer a priority for a number of regional and international actors,” Makhous said.

“The main question is: will Syria remain unified without Assad? Nobody can say that Assad can stay, but today it’s the situation on the ground that is dictating the law.”