Yesterday and today´s round-table discussion on Syria, organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, demonstrated a high level of political relevance.
Opposition politician Fawaz Tello stated: “The Syrian conflict needs to be solved now by international players. Syria needs to set a new political table, to have a new start, and to rearrange the country on the basis of a constitution and humanitarian values.” For Tello, that also means replacing all leading figures, and with the help and intervention of global powers, getting control of radical groups. For him, the Arab spring has only just started and will take decades; in future, it will produce a new Arab world where he sees Syria playing a leading role.
Oytun Orhan, Researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), explained Turkey’s crucial priorities at present, which are the territorial integrity of Syria, the elimination of terrorism, and dealing with the mass of refugees. Turkey is being used as part of a terror corridor to and from Syria, and faces the challenges of terror attacks that come with that. “For Turkey, Syria’s [territorial] integrity is essential and it has a high level of interest in engaging here. The Syrian crisis could be a danger for Turkey’s [territorial] integrity in the long run. For that reason, Turkish government institutions are interested in peace in the region by all means,” said the expert.
Dr. Khalid M. Abalhassan, Head of the Conflict Resolution Unit, Center of Information and Arabian-Russian Studies (CIARS), Riyadh Office, Saudi Arabia, underlined that, “Whenever you combat terrorism, there is a price you pay and recent developments have shown that Saudi Arabia is also affected.” When it comes to other actors in the region, Abalhassan sees the USA as an actor that is not doing enough for the world to hope for solutions from it: “The USA seems to seek to make surgical and limited interventions in the Syrian conflict, and this cannot be expected to bring about a comprehensive solution.” Abalhassan considers the rise of ISIS to be “the second 9/11 disaster witnessed by the world”, which needs to be analysed in accordance with the impact it has.
Dr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, USA, explained that, “Syria is not at all a priority for the USA, and for the new Trump administration in particular. Trump is a businessman, so he tries to understand the world like a businessman and acts this way with foreign policy. For him, the biggest competitor, and in that way ‘enemy’, is China, so his priority conflict target will be China.” So, might there still be space for Russia–US cooperation? “There is lots of disappointment and bitterness that accumulated in the last decades on both sides, and both sides need fresh ideas and solutions to get out of it,” says Cohen.
Dr. Vladimir Ahmedov, Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Problems of the Modern East, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, gave an in-depth analysis of key internal and external factors: “In all engaged countries there are different organisations who are recognised as either terrorists or opposition actors. For example, in the USA the Muslim Brotherhood is not considered as a terrorist organization, and in Russia, it is; in Russia, Hezbollah is not considered as a terrorist group, but in the USA it is. By the same measure, there is a difference to be made between local resistance and terrorists fighting in Syria, and these groups need to be defined on a common international level.” That makes the conflict even more multi-layered and complicated on an international scale, as there are different interests driving the understanding of the term ‘terrorist’.
Different perspectives can also be seen from France´s position. Dr Agnès Levallois of the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique in France made clear that since the terror attacks in Paris, Assad has at least been viewed as not as bad as ISIS. This does not imply that Assad is accepted as such. But the French population does see the direct effects of ISIS within the country.
Prof. Hans Köchler, founder and president of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.), underlined that problems of an international scale began the moment foreign powers started interfering. “Foreign actors who are involved now need to act responsibly, and support negotiations among domestic partners in Syria.”
Taking responsibility and attending peace talks is an urgent requirement of all actors involved in the Syrian conflict – on regional, national, and international levels.