In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Firas Al-Khalidi, head of the Cairo Platform and a member of the Syrian negotiations committee, said that the conditions in Syria have become more complicated than ever because of the re-producing of the conflict in a fiercer form than before, considering Iran the party that most complicates the crisis in Syria.
Al-Khalidi said he believes that the conditions for a path towards a resolution of the conflict have not yet materialised because of the absence of an international consensus on how to reach a political solution.
The Iranian presence in Syria had complicated the crisis further, he said, with the preconditions for a settlement not having been reached or the consensus required to reconstruct the Syrian state. He put some of the blame on the Arab countries for allowing the conflict to continue, saying that there had been a lack of the political will needed to reach an agreement and motivate the world community to resolve the crisis.
Al-Khalidi said the Syrian conflict was entering a more complex stage because some of the parties operating in the country wanted to bolster their gains. There had been renewed US involvement and an ever more complicated military situation due to the Iranian-Israeli confrontation in Syria.
The only glimmer of hope would be if these players could be persuaded to work together to find a political solution to the crisis, he said, which would require determination on the part of the international community and the alignment of intersecting interests, neither of which had materalised.
There had been hints of a US-Russian understanding, but not to the extent of consensus, he said. There had been indications of aligning interests towards the Iranian presence in Syria, but these had not evolved into an official position shared by the other parties. Meanwhile, there had been Turkish incursions into Syria and attempts to broaden its sphere of influence and control. All these had required greater courage by countries that had been sitting on the fence or had remained resolutely neutral.
The solution would need to deal with the Iranian involvement and the Turkish presence in Syria, he said. Today, Tehran believed it had lost the fight in Syria, he added, which was a calamity for Iran since it had also lost influence in the recent Iraqi elections and was dealing with tensions at home as well as the collapse of the nuclear deal with the West and pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Arabs.
“I believe Iran will escalate the conflict or reassert itself with more violent tactics,” Al-Khalidi said.
Responding to Iranian statements that Iran would not be removed from Syria, he said that “Iran has made it very clear that it believes Russia has not been entirely honest in its alliance, thinking that Tehran is no longer useful to Moscow.”
Iran would seem to have more power than the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Al-Khalidi said. “The regime is not part of the power equation, because in reality the regime does not control the military situation, which is controlled by the Russians. The regime does not have military forces capable of controlling all of Syria. The opposition is more powerful than the regime,” he said, referencing reports that the regime now has only 33,000 soldiers, which is not enough to secure the capital.
Russia has to support those reasonable elements in the regime so they can be saved from the regime's cauldron and be brought closer from the opposition and the forces of the revolution.
The fragmentation of the Syrian opposition has led to its lack of power in the face of the regime, according to many commentators. However, Al-Khalidi disagreed, saying that a plural opposition had not harmed the revolution.
“In all revolutions there are different forms, and the regime’s repressive approach to the revolution and the opposition has resulted in its dispersed geographical presence. Many members of the opposition fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey for humanitarian reasons, or to countries assisting in military operations such as Qatar. This made it harder for the opposition to operate politically ion the ground, dividing the opposition.”
“The youth of the revolution were excluded, but today the youth are now present at the Cairo Platform in the shape of the revolutionary youth, and they have an opportunity to act despite the global complications and shut doors.”
“We are a patriotic voice in the Cairo Platform. Even so, it should be said that the inclusion of Kurdish groups that want to see a decentralised system in Syria has led to complications, since this desire has exacerbated Russia’s military interference.”
“We took part in the Geneva Conferences, though these highlighted those who had the greatest funding and military and media presence. The Cairo Platform does not have as much funding as some, and it does not control private media channels. We are nationalists, which is a position that some others shy away from, and we recognise that in order for nationalism to work it must be based on consensus. Any real solution to the Syrian crisis requires the involvement of actors who believe in the Syrian state and represent the Syrian people.”
Speaking about the agendas of local groups in Syria such as the Kurds, Al-Khalidi said that “any agenda to divide Syria is unacceptable. What we have seen is a unilateral declaration of federation. The official position of the Cairo Platform on our Kurdish brothers or their self-rule is that they must reject federation in order to be welcomed with open arms. This is non-negotiable.”
Al-Khalidi also believes that France is looking for a greater role in Syria after it was excluded and lost ground. He said the conflict would likely continue and more blood would be spilled because Iran had an interest in continuing it and Turkey wanted to control the north of the country to benefit Ankara alone, contrary to its agreements with Russia.
Meanwhile, the Syrian people were paying the price, he said. “The only champion of the Syrian people is the Syrian people,” Al-Khalidi declared. “There has been sympathy from some countries due to the humanitarian conditions, but sympathy is not enough.”
He also blamed the Arab countries for the situation. “The Arabs were distracted in the past, but now they have no excuse. The people of Syria are asking ‘where are the Arabs?’ The West has closed its doors, there is no relief, and there are difficult humanitarian conditions. Some are even saying the Syrian refugees should not be demanding the right of return like their Palestinian brothers.”
Al-Khalidi concluded by saying that “we have a common enemy in Iran. Some Arab countries have good relations with Russia, while others have good relations with the US. These countries can create consensus around a nationalist solution that will satisfy all. But this can only be done by the Arabs and not by the Europeans or the US. Efforts are underway, but as a Syrian citizen and as an Arab I believe they are unsatisfactory.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: More bloodshed to come in Syria