Friday the peace negotiations for the armed conflict in Syria finally commenced. With some delay, the most important parties in the conflict have come together in Geneva. Even though the conflict is a fine example of true spaghetti: the negotiators should be able to start to unravel this mosaic of interests and conflicts.
The preparations for the peace negotiations have already shown the complexity of the situation. The Turkish did not want to have the Syrian Kurds present, Saudi-Arabia has formed an alliance with 34 opposition parties but did not include all of them and Russia has objected to some of the radical Islamic groups that were invited. The official position of the UN is that all involved parties are invited, except for IS and al-Nusra. Meanwhile the coalition of the 34 opposition parties has not yet arrived in Geneva with the talks starting today.
These events should however not overshadow the hope that the world can draw from these talks. When this conflict would have been easy to resolve, it would already been done so a long time ago. Till today, the conflict has caused more than 250 thousands civilian casualties and the UN estimates that about 7.6 million people have been internally displaced. The UN predicts there could be 4.7 million registered Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.
It is therefore even more important that the involved parties start the talks to make an end to this misery. In the fascinating book “Talking to Terrorists”, written by former negotiator for the British government Jonathan Powel, it becomes clear how important it is that parties talk to each other to start a process of peace building. With examples from Colombia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and North Ireland, the author shows the relevance of mediation and even more important the need to even talk with the ‘evil’ parties. It will be interesting to see if the parties that have been invited will be able to achieve true process in stopping the violence or that it will also be necessary to talk to terrorist groups as al-Nusra and IS.
Friday was a day of hope. In December the Security Council was, after years of stalemate, able and willing to approve a solution for peace in Syria: the roadmap for a Syria peace process. The Russians, who vetoed a resolution to achieve peace in Syria four times before due to their support to Bashar Assad, finally reached an agreement with the US. It is now the time to take the next steps with this window of opportunity. It is up to the the UN Special Envoy for Syria, the long-time experienced Swedish/Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura, to show his best of his skills and start working on unravelling this spaghetti.