Syria’s hope for peace
THE Syrian opposition’s willingness to talk to the Damascus government indicates a major shift in the policies of the motley group of factions that comprise the anti-Baathist camp. This also shows that the civil war has reached a stalemate. President Bashar al-Assad, too, has signalled his desire to negotiate, but not with the National Coalition, which he says backs armed rebellion. On Monday, Moaz al-Khatib, a National Coalition leader, repeated that the opposition was willing to negotiate with the regime, and that it was President Assad who should say “yes or no”. Until recently, when the regime’s fall appeared imminent, the opposition’s stance was that it wouldn’t negotiate with the Baathist leadership and that President Assad must go. It had also rejected any provisional government if the president were part of it. On Sunday, Mr Khatib also had a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who remarked that the dissidents’ insistence on President Assad’s departure was the main reason for the continuation of the Syrian tragedy.
Now that this major hurdle has been crossed, President Assad must realise he is in a position to bring the slaughter to a halt. Mr Khatib, no doubt, ruled out direct talks with him and said that the opposition would talk to his vice president, who should be authorised by President Assad to negotiate on his behalf. This is not such a big obstacle. After all, the vice president will negotiate according to the brief given by the president, and the final authority will rest with the head of state. The danger is that if the peace moves do not gain momentum, and fizzle out, the conflict would not only prolong, it could drag the region into the Syrian charnel, and perpetuate the misery of a nation which has already suffered tens of thousands dead.