Paris Preparing ‘New Initiative’ on Syria

French President Macron must convince Moscow of the benefits of a political solution if Paris hopes to have any luck in settling the Syrian crisis, Michel Abu Najm writes for Saudi-owned newspaper

France is working on devising a political-diplomatic initiative on the war on Syria. To that end, it has been intensifying contacts on all sides, whether with the United States, Russia, members of the European Union or countries of the Arab Gulf.

Official French sources told Asharq al-Awsat that the initiative will be announced by President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to put Paris and Europe back on the scene after being marginalized in recent months with the launch of the Astana talks and Moscow’s semi-unilateral approach, whether on the military or diplomatic fronts.

They added, however, that the French initiative needs time to “ripen” and its announcement depends heavily on the international situation. It is also linked to the “ability to establish a new reality in which Russia and Iran realize that maintaining their current policy in Syria will be more costly to them than accepting a real political solution.”

Attention is now focused on the means to reach this “new reality,” given that attention to the military operations has taken precedence over the political aspects of the conflict.

The main obstacle, said the French sources, is the United States, because its State and Defense Departments have not yet completed their “revision” of Washington’s policy on Syria.

“The U.S. does not have a political vision for the situation in Syria,” they said, adding that the American policy has not gone beyond stressing the need to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) and terrorism.

Washington, the obstacle, could later become a helping factor if the administration of Donald Trump wanted to “translate the policy of containing Iran into reality.” It should start doing so in Syria.

Washington, however, is not the only obstacle on the Syrian scene as many European countries have their own concerns. British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered an electoral defeat that may see her leave her post. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is gearing up for elections in three months and Italy keeps moving from crisis to crisis, stated the French sources.

Europe, therefore, sees in Paris a crutch that it may lean on over the Syria file.

The Arab Gulf too has become distracted from the war in Syria. It was initially preoccupied with the conflict in Yemen and now it is embroiled in the diplomatic crisis with Qatar.

The Syrian opposition is also divided politically and militarily, which does not help the cause of those seeking to support it. The regime in Syria has meanwhile succeeded in portraying to the world that the war pits it against extremists, whether from ISIS or the Nusra Front.

Paris believes that the series of Geneva talks are “running around in circles” and therefore cannot be relied upon to reach a political solution, while the Russian-backed Astana talks are no better, continued the sources.

The Astana talks have resulted in the emergence of separate visions between key states. The French sources said that the disputes that have emerged at Astana reveal that Syria today is truly divided between four regions, each one controlled by Turkey, the Assad regime, ISIS and the opposition forces.

Paris believes that as long as a new political dynamic to reach a political solution is not launched then attention will be focused on how to practically manage these regions, added the sources. The main question, however, is how can this fragmented reality be transformed into a basis for spearheading a political project and provide international pressure to find this desired dynamic?

This is what Paris is seeking and what Macron wants to work on.

Despite the bleakness of the scene and based on the talks he held with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the French sources said that “there is room to maneuver that we can work with.”

They revealed that Russia demonstrated its willingness to work to resolve the Syrian file. Although what price it wants in return remains a mystery. Iran, meanwhile, appears to be very committed to its stances and is unrelenting in its absolute support of the Syrian regime, which France believes is weak.

“The successes the regime have achieved are not really its own, but they were possible through Iran’s militias and others that Iran is leading under Russian cover,” said the sources.

Four excuses to convince Moscow

At this point, Moscow once again appears to be the key player that should be worked with because its position on Syria could be decisive. Paris therefore wants to “persuade” Moscow to employ its influence in Syria to push for a solution.

Its first aim is to convince Russia that the regime will not be able to impose its control throughout Syria before several months. Second, even if the war does end, the refugees will not be able to return to their country and the reconstruction process will not take place without a political solution, explained the sources.

The third excuse is that implementing Trump’s policy in Syria of containing Iran will create tension and possibly even lead to a larger war. The fourth excuse to convince Russia on Syria is that all of the above will harm its interests. Contributing to the solution today will be less costly than continuing its old policy.

Will Paris succeed in persuading Moscow? This question is difficult to answer today, but it is certain that if the current game in Syria persists, then its results will be catastrophic on the country, region and beyond, said the French sources.

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.


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