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Trendlines: ‘Syria After Geneva 2’

BY Larisa Epatko  February 13, 2014 at 3:18 PM EDT

You can watch the Trendlines debut, “Syria After Geneva 2”, in the above video.

As Syria’s bloody civil war barrels past its third year this March, the refugee crisis, sectarian tensions and Islamic radicalization it is causing continue to threaten the entire region. “This is a cancer,” said Semih Idiz, an Al-Monitor columnist based in Ankara, Turkey.

Idiz made his comments in the Thursday premiere of a web series called Trendlines produced jointly by the PBS NewsHour and Al-Monitor, a website of reporting and analysis from the Middle East. He appeared with two other Al-Monitor columnists: Daoud Kuttab in Amman, Jordan, and Vitaly Naumkin in Moscow; along with Joshua Landis, associate professor and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, in the first web special, “Syria after Geneva 2”.

“The situation is so chaotic that Turkey really has no option left now except to hope that some kind of solution can come out of Geneva, because it’s very clear now that there is not going to be any international intervention to stop what’s going on,” Idiz told NewsHour chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner.

The second rounds of talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the opposition in Geneva in January did not yield any breakthroughs, but negotiations were continuing this month.

Turkey has seen several car bombings on its border with Syria and one inside the country itself, along with a steady flow of refugees, he continued. But because of the Turkish government’s anti-Assad attitude, “Turkey is not a major player in Geneva even though it is being affected by all this.”

The countries that are involved have not put enough pressure on the warring parties to resolve the problems or even produce a genuine humanitarian solution, contended Kuttab. The United Nations has registered more than 2.4 million refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Part of the problem, according to Landis, was when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted there had to be regime change before a ceasefire and humanitarian issues were settled. “Once Assad heard that, he pulled off the table the possibility of any real ceasefire or other goodies that he was possibly willing to trade.”

Russia views the conflict differently than other regional actors, said Naumkin. The Russian government continues dealings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including arms sales, but it is not working to keep him in power. Instead, Russia doesn’t want a failed state, which “would be a disaster for the whole region,” Naumkin said.

Jordan, which is struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, is trying to stay neutral, according to Kuttab. “The Jordanians never burnt their bridges with they Syrians even though there are reports of some weapons going to the rebel groups, said Kuttab. “Jordan is basically sitting on the fence figuring out who is going to win this.”

In the United States, it’s a different story. The Obama administration has taken the stance that there must be regime change in Syria, and that likely won’t change, said Landis. But he didn’t expect any major actions either. “I think America will kick the can down the road for two years” and not make a move to either destroy or work with the regime, he said.

Finding a resolution to Syria will be a very long process, Naumkin said. The key is to “build rapprochement between the regional actors, mainly Iran and Saudi Arabia.”

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