Opposition Syrian National Coalition to attend Geneva talks

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the exile group serving as a front for the US-backed Islamist insurgency against the Syrian regime, voted Saturday to attend talks beginning Wednesday in Geneva.

Meeting in Istanbul, the 75-member SNC voted 58 to 14 to attend the conference, with two abstaining and one blank vote.

Before the vote, Washington and its allies gave assurances that they would seek the removal of Assad and the inclusion of the opposition in a new Syrian government. At a January 12 meeting, the “Friends of Syria” group—including the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy—issued a statement to the opposition. Asserting that “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria,” it told the opposition to send a “delegation” to “participate in the political process.”

The Geneva talks thus represent an attempt by Washington and its allies to impose through diplomacy a neo-colonial regime on the Syrian people that their unpopular Islamist proxies failed to impose on the battlefield.

The SNC, which last week refused to say whether it would attend the Geneva II talks, followed the instructions issued by its imperialist backers. Announcing the SNC vote in Istanbul, SNC President Ahmad Jarba denounced Assad: “We are joining the Geneva talks to rid Syria of this criminal.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry called the SNC’s vote to participate “courageous” and the Geneva II meeting “a path that will ultimately lead to a better future.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also praised the SNC decision, saying, “The aim of the talks is to agree a political transition and an end to the conflict. In contrast to the National Coalition [the SNC], the Syrian regime has still not agreed to this aim. Any mutually agreed settlement means that Assad can play no role in Syria’s future.”

Russia, which together with Iran is the Syrian regime’s main ally, is also supporting the Geneva talks. Calling the SNC vote a “correct decision,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov declared: “We have been saying the entire time that it is necessary to go to the forum and enter into dialog with the government.”

Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether an agreement could be reached in Geneva or what effect it would have on the ongoing fighting in Syria. Saudi Arabia and the CIA continue to arm Islamist opposition militias inside Syria who oppose the Geneva talks, and the Assad regime has indicated that it does not intend to hand power to the Islamist forces.

US-backed opposition militias yesterday denounced the talks and the SNC’s decision to attend them. Islamic Front leader Abu Omar said Syria’s future will be “formulated here on the ground of heroism, and signed in blood on the front lines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who do not even represent themselves.”

Contradictory reports emerged yesterday about apparently tense discussions between Russian officials and Assad, about whether Assad would give up power. Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Assad told a delegation of visiting Russian legislators, “If we wanted to surrender, we would have surrendered from the start. This issue is not under discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections.”

Assad’s office subsequently issued a statement to Syrian state television calling Interfax’s report “not accurate.” It added that Assad “did not conduct an interview with the agency,” although Interfax had not said that Assad was the source of its report.

The renewed attempt by Washington and its allies to orchestrate regime change in Syria shows that the war crisis in September, which nearly led to a US attack on Syria, continues to boil. The US government postponed an attack on Syria, in the face of popular opposition and concerns in the foreign policy establishment that it would interfere with the “pivot to Asia” to confront China, and instead opened public talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

Now, however, the imperialist powers are again stepping up demands for Assad’s ouster and their support for the opposition, under conditions where Assad’s main allies, Russia and Iran, are under intense US pressure. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seeking to normalize Iranian relations with the United States—offering Washington broad access to Iran’s oil resources and foreign policy assistance, in exchange for the US lifting international sanctions that are choking Iran’s economy.

Confronting Western-backed protests in the neighboring Ukraine, Moscow also is placing large areas around Sochi on lockdown, over fears of bombings at the upcoming Sochi Olympics by Chechen Islamist groups closely tied to US and Saudi intelligence.

Despite the neo-colonial character of the demands Washington is advancing in the region, Moscow and Tehran are both pressing for Assad to participate in the Geneva II talks, despite the exorbitant demands of the largely defeated opposition.

Though Washington is currently refusing to let Iran attend the Geneva talks, “informed” Iranian sources told Al Monitor that Tehran aims to make them succeed: “Whoever is meeting in Geneva knows that Iran is vital for any solution in Syria. These countries need our efforts, and we are genuinely keen to do our part to make sure this conference reaches a happy ending.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif toured the Middle East early this month to discuss the Syrian war, stopping in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. The Turkish government, a key supporter of the Syrian Islamist opposition, shifted its policy to support the Geneva talks after meeting with Zarif.

Moscow hosted first Zarif on Thursday then Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Friday. Muallem presented the Kremlin with a plan for a ceasefire and a prisoner swap with opposition forces around Aleppo.

“I count on the success of this plan if all sides carry out their obligation,” Muallem said. “We would like this to serve as an example to other towns.”

The US policy is all the more provocative, in that the ties between Al Qaeda and the opposition forces it is supporting and trying to install in power in Damascus are well known and officially acknowledged by US allies.

According to a January 14 report in the Wall Street Journal, German, British, French, and Spanish intelligence agencies have sent officials to Syria to ask for Assad’s help in monitoring an estimated 1,200 Europeans thought to have joined terrorist opposition groups fighting in Syria. There are fears that they will then return and carry out terrorist attacks within Europe itself.

Speaking to the Journal, Spanish officials confirmed that the meetings had taken place: “Yes, there have been exchanges of information. Spain has consistently expressed its concern about the dangers posed by these terrorists.”

The day the Journal article appeared, in his presidential address, French President François Hollande said he was concerned that 700 French youth had travelled to fight in Syria.