Calls grow for Syrian conflict talks in Geneva

October 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has said efforts were in progress to start Syrian peace talks after Secretary of State John Kerry and others have called for the two sides to sit down for a conference in Geneva. Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Program for Arab Politics at the Washington Institute, explains.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For a broader look we’re joined now from Washington by Andrew Tabler. He is a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute. So first, let’s start talking about this possible tentative meeting in Geneva that Secretary of State Kerry and others have been hinting at, if there was such a meeting, if there were peace talks, who actually sits at the table between Syria and the rebels?

ANDREW TABLER: Well, the Syrian government seems like it would show up, on behalf of the rebels though it’s far from clear, the Syrian opposition coalition, the largest umbrella, would seem to be the party that would sit across from the Assad government, but it’s unclear if the membership of that body, specifically the Syrian national council which holds the largest number of seats will agree, and in the coming days there will be meetings to determine who and under what circumstances would go to Geneva.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And how much of that is decided by the situation on the ground today? Whether one side is winning or losing or gaining or losing territory?

ANDREW TABLER: Tremendously so, especially in terms of legitimacy. The armed groups inside of the country are the ones that are really controlling the sort of flow of battle and they are the ones also that along with the civilians in local areas inside of Syria, they’re the ones that carry the weight of the burden of the revolution. It’s unclear if they would be involved in these talks, many of them are against them, specifically some of the more Islamist brigades and that is going to be a constraint upon any party that sits across from the Assad regime in Geneva.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What has been the situation in the ground in the past couple of weeks, have we seen another shift in momentum?

ANDREW TABLER: I think that we still see the back and forth between the Assad regime and the rebel forces, the Assad regime pushing into some areas where the rebels, also carrying out spectacular attacks on checkpoints for example, sometimes suicide bombings. Also, the killing of a major intelligence official in the eastern city of Dair Alzour, so they continue to duke it out throughout Syria, while those in Geneva prepare for talks that might be.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And then we also have indications now that Turkey is getting involved, they’re starting to fight some of the rebels, but they have their own reasons.

ANDREW TABLER: That’s right, the problem in the north and the east, extremists, al-Qaeda affiliates have grown in stature and number because those borders are more or less open. And the problem is that runs against a lot of Turkish policies, specifically concerning the situation in the southeastern part of the country, so a lot of the battles between the mainland opposition forces and the extremist’s concern border crossings, concern smuggling and financing the revolution.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, this is going to seem speculative, but any chance of a peaceful resolution here?

ANDREW TABLER: I think that we’re still very far from that and it’s unclear if Geneva will even get the basics, a cease-fire or really anything. But it seems as if western countries, as well as Russia, would like to push for talks at this point, to get them rolling, the question is, is the party that sits across from the Assad regime among the opposition, are they going to be then, held into account, concerning just meeting with the Assad regime, that’s unclear at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Andrew Tabler from Washington, thanks so much.