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Syria Peace Talks Delayed by Opposition Groups, Carter Announces More US Troops

Next Cold War Roundup 1/27/16

Syrian Peace Talks Delayed. Opposition Groups Still Undecided on Attendance.

_ Syrian “opposition” has three main categories: Sunni groups organized by Saudi Arabia into something called the “High Negotiation Committee” (HNC), Syrian Kurds (YPG) and Syrian political groups. The HNC contains some jihadist groups that most consider to be terrorists but the Saudis want them at the negotiating table anyway. HNC, after hinting for the past couple of weeks that they could not go forward with the talks caused a delay for “humanitarian” reasons and because some of their groups probably will be disallowed because they are clearly terrorists.  The HNC blames Russia and Syria for the delay and claim that Russia is trying to “dictate” which opposition groups can participate.

_ The factor that the opposition groups don’t mention is that they are losing ground on the battlefield and would be entering the talks in a weaker position than they would like.  Western media has, in recent weeks, begun to report more candidly that the Syrian army and its coalition “is gaining ground against rebels in western Syria.”

_ “The main Syrian Kurdish party said it had not been invited” though earlier in the day their leader Saleh Muslim had “appeared confident he would be getting an invite.” Some Syrian and Kurdish political activists also received invitations. Turkey reiterated that it will boycott the talks if the PYD is included.

_ On Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, sent out invitations for the delayed talks, now scheduled for Friday.  Invitations were sent to individual groups. The Saudi organized opposition, “High Negotiations Committee (HNC)” is led by Asaad al-Zoubi and Riyad Hijab and after a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday are still undecided about attending. “While the group left open the possibility of its eventual participation in the talks scheduled to begin Friday, it said it awaits a reply from the U.N. chief on its conditions.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius “said he had spoken to HNC coordinator Riad Hijab and understood the group would attend.”

_ Meanwhile, if this report about John Kerry’s Saturday visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with opposition groups is true, this is most likely the real reason they are threatening to boycott the talks and why some are saying the talks will fail.  Kerry reportedly told the “rebel” groups that they must accept the preconditions and “participate in peace talks, according to an explosive report by the daily pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.” These conditions include a “national unity government” instead of turning the country over to a transitional government as the opposition wanted.  Kerry reportedly told the opposition that Assad also has the right to run for reelection and confirmed the US position:

Kerry also signaled the Obama administration’s endorsement of a four-point peace plan for Syria created by Iran, a staunch ally of Assad. The plan calls for an immediate ceasefire, the establishment of a national unity government, the anchoring of minority rights in the constitution, and internationally supervised presidential elections in Syria.

Turkey Won’t Agree to Syrian Kurds Participating in Peace Talks During Biden’s Trip to Turkey

_ On Saturday, Turkey’s PM Davutoglu said Syrian Kurdish party PYD  are the same as the Kurdish PKK, considered terrorists, and they can’t be at the negotiating table.  PYD’s military wing, YPG, is a partner of the US.  Biden said the PKK are terrorists, but apparently did not comment the distinction between them and the YPG openly partnering with the US on the battlefield right now.

_ On Monday, Davutoglu told Christiane Amanpour Turkey wants Syrian Kurds to be at the negotiating table, but not the PYD (political party) and YPG (armed wing of PYD, “People’s Protection Units”, Rojava).  “Nobody can convince us” the YPG are “for peace.”

_ The pressure is on Turkey, perhaps most of all on Erdogan, big time. Biden’s visit, Israel’s Ya’alon publicly saying Turkey funded ISIS by not shutting down the oil smuggling and that Turkey isn’t serious about fighting terrorism. Russia is demanding that the Kurds attend the peace talks and Russia’s RT channel is rerunning their very favorable propaganda documentary on the female fighting units of the Kurdish YPG.

Biden in Turkey

_ Biden said on Saturday the “United States and Turkey were prepared for a military solution in Syria if a political settlement was not possible.” Is he talking about ISIS or Assad?

“Biden said he and Davutoglu also discussed how the two NATO allies could further support Sunni Arab rebel forces fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. […] A US official clarified that Biden was talking about a military solution to Islamic State, not Syria as a whole.”

Ukraine: War or Peace?

_ In this week’s radio show with John Batchelor and Stephen Cohen noted that Ukraine’s former president Yushchenko said “What Ukraine needs today is not a peace plan but a war plan for victory in Donbass. Ukraine needs a plan for a victory, not a peace plan. Exactly a plan for victory. We can talk about peace after we have won the war. Can we win this war? We certainly can.” This is the opposite of what the Minsk agreement calls for and what Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Poroshenko were working for.  Last week it looked like there would be progress toward giving Donbass regions DPR and LPR some autonomy and reuniting the country.  Poroshenko has not moved forward with the legislative things that need to be done.

_ There is still no word about results of the high level meetings last week between Victoria Nuland and Russia’s Surkov.  Bachelor and Cohen talked about the fact that US policy in Ukraine has different factions and when progress is made, often there is a resultant shift in a different direction. The meeting between Nuland and Surkov signaled a big move on the horizon. “To call the meeting unusual would be an understatement.”  Immediately after the meeting, anti-Russian propaganda was dialed to 11 in western media, another sign of the policy factions pushing against each other. “If it starts to seem like Putin is cooperating and Poroshenko stalling, Brussels will likely find it difficult to maintain unanimity on renewing economic sanctions against Russia this summer.”

_ “Contact group” meetings proceed in Minsk.  DPR proposes a “compromise” to the constitutional amendment that gives their region special status. A former Russian ambassador to UK wrote an op-ed saying “Kiev must understand there is no alternative to Minsk.” Lavrov, in a big press conference, said there may be new Normandy format meetings in Minsk on Feb. 8.

_ Lobbies in Europe are pushing for an end to the Russian sanctions. Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wrote a op-ed saying he wants to “foster a Mideast strategy with Russia.” The pressure is clearly high to normalize relations with Russia but Schaeuble is also talking about a broader solution in :

“If I correctly understand Russia’s security interests with respect to Islamist terrorism, it rather has a problem with ambitions grounded in Sunni Islam,” Schaeuble wrote in the op-ed. “Why should we not be able to develop a joint strategy with Russia to defuse tensions between a Saudi-led Sunni coalition and an Iran-led Shia coalition?”

_ Ukraine elections in Donbass region are approaching. Another former Ukraine president is speaking out about delaying those elections again.

Sec Def Carter — More Troops in Iraq and Syria

_ At Davos, in TV interviews and in an op-ed for Politico, Ash Carter said the number of US troops would be increased for the anti-ISIS operations in Mosul and Raqqa. “In addition to an expanded U.S. role, Carter says he’s looking for more countries to increase their commitment as well — especially from the Gulf — after last week’s meeting of several defense ministers in Paris.”

Syrian Army Reinforcements

_ Syrian “National Defense Forces” (NDF) are being trained for upcoming battles on several fronts.

Turkey’s Anti-Kurd Operation in Southeast

_ After saying they would wind down their offensive in southeast Turkey’s Kurdish region, Turkey has instead increased operations and curfews.


_ “Pro-Russian opposition protesters broke into Moldovan parliament building last week, minutes after lawmakers approved a new, pro-European government.”

Blurring Lines Between War and Peace

_ In a Davos session, NATO’s Jen Stolteberg says we now live in a world where the lines between war and peace are blurring:

“[…] before we had some kind of idea that it was either peace or war. But now more and more countries are living in a state which is somewhere in between. And that is about this blurring line between war and peace.”


_ The president of Afghanistan at Davos: “The greatest missing element in the strategy of counterterrorism is the role of the market.”

Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.