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James Denselow

The credibility of the international community is at stake

UN envoy Steffan De Mistura must herd the international community towards a political solution [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2016

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Comment: The Syria peace process is vital to countries far from Syria's borders, and the world needs to come together to stop the violence, writes James Denselow.
The credibility of the international community, and, more importantly, international systems are at stake in Syria's seemingly stalled peace process.

Unsurprisingly, the focus has been on the regime's intentions and the tortuous process of both selecting which opposition groups would attend - and then getting them to physically be in Geneva.

Initial delays and supposed "red lines" about who should and shouldn't be there and how they intended to engage with the regime - albeit indirectly - gave the atmosphere a sense of chaos that UN envoy Steffan De Mistura struggled to smooth over.

Of course the diplomatic path is not walked in isolation and the timing of the regime's breakthrough in and around Aleppo changed the formula of things very quickly indeed.

The sudden encircling of Syria's largest city and the subsequent movement of tens of thousands towards the Turkish border has refocused minds and again raised the question as to whether there can be a military solution to a conflict that will have lasted five years come next month.
The most immediate issue... is to test how genuine the Russian commitment is to the Geneva process

On Friday February 5, Syria's beleaguered White Helmets, the civil defence team we often see dashing around the smoke and rubble of bombings, said that they had seen 900 airstrikes over the past day - a shocking testament to the impact that Russian air support has had.

Yet the Russians were a key architect of the Vienna process last year that set in motion the Geneva meetings. If the will of Russia, the US, Europe and all the regional actors involved in the Vienna process is ignored - in addition to the UN Security Council resolutions passed to support both the peace process and aid access - then the damage wrought by a failure of Geneva III will go much further than just bad news for the Syrians.

So the first and most immediate issue - presumably with leadership from either the Americans, the Europeans or even the UN - is to test how genuine the Russian commitment is to the Geneva process.

If Moscow is interested in process for the sake of maintaining appearances and has no genuine commitment to an inclusive diplomatic process, then this needs to be exposed. Already some are declaring the death of the Geneva process in the light of the opposition's most significant setback in four years, but potential dramatic responses from Turkey or even Saudi Arabia could yet alter the balance of power once more - and again highlight the need for a process that doesn't rely on communication through violence.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has invested a huge amount of time and energy bringing the Geneva process into existence, and much was made of his personal relationship with his Russian equivalent, Sergei Lavrov, in bringing things forward.

One can only imagine what the mood was on private conversations between these two over the past week, but Kerry's credibility and legacy as an effective diplomat are at stake.
For countries to be willing to pay for the humanitarian fallout from Syria's war but not invest in seeking an end to the conflict itself is a huge dereliction of duty

At the UN, the Russians placed the blame on the failure of diplomacy at Washington's door with Moscow's ambassador claiming "we cannot stop this (airstrikes) unilaterally: what about the terrorist and opposition groups, are they going to stop too? What about this American-led coalition - are they going to stop too?"

Kerry's response to date has been to set out a test of whether the Russians are "serious" about peace talks in Syria - and this is exactly the question that needs to be urgently addressed.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the stalled peace process and the march on Aleppo came the record-breaking international donor's conference that saw $10 billion pledged and the kind of harmony between world powers that was so absent from the Geneva meetings.

Yet for countries to be willing to pay for the humanitarian fallout from Syria's war but not invest in seeking an end to the conflict itself is a huge dereliction of duty.

Focusing the attention of the conference beyond the direct combatants relieves the pressure upon them, and reminds everyone concerned that responsibility for finding a peaceful future for Syria is not something that lies solely with Syrian actors.

In short, the peace process is too big to fail, and finding peace in Syria is not something that can or should be left to the Syrians - such is its impact far beyond its borders.

James Denselow is an author and writer on Middle East politics and security issues. He is a former board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and a director of the New Diplomacy Platform. Follow him on Twitter: @jamesdenselow

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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