Is There an End in Sight to the Syrian Conflict?
The Turkish, Russian and Iranian governments begged the Syrian Constitutional Committee on Thursday to seek compromise and consensus among the sides of the country’s decade-long civil war.
Following consultations on the margins of the fifth meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, the three nations produced a joint statement underlining their support for an independent, united and sovereign Syria.
According to AA, the statement specified that the body had been created by the Astana guarantor nations to support efforts for a political and peaceful solution to the conflict. It also stated that the committee should work independently from ‘foreign interference’ and aim to develop a consensus between its members to gather the broadest support among Syrians.
Peace in Syria Won’t be Easy
Furthermore, the statement concluded that the next international meeting on Syria in the Astana format will take place in Sochi on February 16-17, 2021.
Since January 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have been working on the Astana peace process in a bid to end a war that has so far cost the lives of 10 million people, according to UN estimates.
However, peace will not be easy. 2021 is different to previous years that Constitutional Committee meetings took place because the US has a new president who will adopt his own approach toward Syria: Joe Biden. As Kerry Boyd Anderson wrote for Arab News, the Biden administration will do everything in its power to prevent the resurgence of ISIS, but it will also view the refugee crisis, regional stability, human rights, and limiting Russian and Iranian interference as vital issues in its Syria policy.
Biden’s Unclear Approach to Syria
Though Biden has said very little about his approach toward Syria, it is likely that he will exert diplomatic pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This strategy includes rebuilding coalitions to end the war and to maintain the US’s military presence to prevent ISIS from re-emerging. In 2019, the then former vice president criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing US troops from Syria.
The US President will also be far less accommodating toward Putin and Erdoğan, and the sanctions under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act will likely remain in place. But Biden will feel the pressure to deal with Syria far better than Barack Obama did. Yet the Biden administration faces another obstacle: how can it be tough on Iran’s continued presence in Syria when it is trying to persuade them to support the Iran Deal that Obama signed?
Also, it is unlikely that the Turkish, Iranian and Russian leaders will support a peace process that is headed by Biden. As I wrote in May last year, Putin, Rouhani and Erdoğan want to weaken Washington’s grip over the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Forces, and they may well break up Syria between them one day if all attempts at peace through the Constitutional Committee fail.
The Nightmarish Alternative to a Diplomatic Solution
Phylliss Bennis once wrote for TNI that the US should engage with Putin to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict, but considering Biden has made it clear that he views the Russian leader as ‘a thug’, and that he may well sideline the Turkish President, there are no signs of a peaceful dialog emerging so far.
For now, it is unclear whether there is an end in sight to Syria’s ten-year war; that will become more apparent when the next Astana meeting takes place in February. The only way that peace can be restored to Syria is if the four superpowers and Assad can work together to carve out a diplomatic solution, but given that Biden has aims that contradict those of his Iranian, Russian, Turkish and Syrian counterparts, an end to the war only feels like an aspiration, not a realistic goal.