Two recent events have muddied the waters in the Syria conflict.
The first is the government’s tardiness in handing over its chemical arms for destruction. The delay calls into question not only the government’s honesty in making the pledge, but also Russia’s seriousness in pushing the Bashar Assad regime to dispose of the weapons.
The second, illustrating the dangerous chaos on the rebel side, is the expulsion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from al-Qaida’s worldwide network. ISIS has been considered, at least by the United States, as the darkest side of Islamist terrorism. The Syrian opposition’s representation in the recently adjourned peace talks in Geneva has not included any ground fighters from the conflict.
Al-Qaida’s disassociation from ISIS, which is more extreme than its al-Nusra Front affiliate, means that even if the largely exile and more structured opposition to the Bashar government could be brought to agreement, the more radical ISIS would fight on.
Both developments diminish prospects for the talks’ success in ending the killing, destruction and hardship in Syria, not to mention the continuing flow of refugees across its borders into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The parties are scheduled to resume negotiations Feb. 10, although neither side is pledged firmly to appear.
Failure of the talks would mean that the violence and disruption will continue and that pressure on Russia, the United States and other nations to find a solution will rise again. Russia needs to pressure the Assad government to fulfill its pledge to hand over the chemical arms. The United States needs to work with its side of the war, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to put heat on the Syrian opposition to play ball in the talks. Aid would be the tool in both cases.
The fate of a critically located state with 23 million people is at stake, with no end of death, destruction and risk in sight.