For an excellent snapshot of the stillborn UN-brokered peace process on the war in Syria, which is scheduled to begin this Friday in Geneva, what is being referred to as Geneva III, consult this morning's Reuters story, "Syria Peace Talks Hinge on Envoy's Answers."
The title of the piece refers to a list of clarifying questions that the handpicked Saudi opposition, which has dubbed itself the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) in an attempt to appear officially legitimate, has submitted to UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The questions purportedly have to do with the lifting of sieges on opposition-held territory as a precondition of the peace talks.
The Saudis have no intention of bargaining in good faith. These conditions are an attempt to shift blame for the stillborn Geneva III to the Russians and Syrians. The talks were never going to get off the ground. This became apparent yesterday when de Mistura sent out invitations omitting the Syrian Kurds:
De Mistura's bid to convene the talks has already faced problems, including a dispute over who should represent the opposition. While the Saudi-backed HNC includes powerful rebel factions fighting Assad in western Syria, Russia has been demanding wider participation to include the Syrian Kurds.
But de Mistura has not invited the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, which is affiliated to the Kurdish YPG militia that controls wide areas of northern and northeastern Syria and has become an important partner in the U.S.-led war on Islamic State.
Turkey, a major sponsor of the rebellion which views the Syrian Kurdish PYD party as a terrorist group, had said it would boycott the talks if had been invited.
Fabius said: "The PYD group was causing the most problems, and Mr de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter."
The PYD's representative in France, Khaled Eissa, who had been on a list of possible delegates proposed by Russia, blamed regional and international powers, in particular Turkey, for blocking the Kurds and forecast the talks would fail.
"You can't neglect a force that controls an area three times the size of Lebanon," he said. "We will not respect any decision taken without our participation."
One prominent Syrian opposition figure said he would boycott the talks unless the PYD was invited.
"I'll go with my friends or not (at all). There is no compromise in this question," Haytham Manna told Reuters. Manna is co-leader of an opposition group called the Syrian Democratic Council, which includes the PYD and was formed in December in Kurdish-controlled Hasaka province.
Independent Syria dissident Jihad Makdissi said would not attend the initial round of talks in order to help overcome differences over who should represent the opposition.Not surprisingly, de Mistura's promises of robust participation by women and civil society groups in the peace process have proven hollow. According to Somini Sengupta reporting from Geneva in "An Odd Diplomatic Dance as U.N. Prepares for Syria Peace Talks":
Mr. de Mistura had promised to seek the guidance of women’s groups and civil-society representatives. But none got the mysterious invitations on Tuesday, diplomats said, which galled Mouna Ghanem, a Syrian politician who is not part of either the Russia-backed or Saudi-backed blocs.
“Just on the doors of Geneva III, majority of men are rushing to negotiate Syrian future,” Ms. Ghanem, coordinator for the Syrian Women Forum for Peace, said in a statement. She called women’s participation “shallow and insignificant.”De Mistura is dancing to the Saudi fiddler, as is the United States. Or Saudis are dancing to a tune produced at Langley. It is often hard to understand where the U.S. deep state stops and the House of Saud begins, so intertwined are the two. In any event, a couple things are clear at this point: 1) Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army military victories are mounting, and 2) the Saudis and Turks refuse to bargain while their regime-change operation is backpedaling.
Where do the Saudis go from here? The old standby. Terror bombing like the one the other day in the Shiite area of Homs. The Saudis work through multiple proxies, secular and Salafist.
The maintenance of our status quo of perpetual warfare means that Europe will keep its role as escape valve for a disintegrating Middle East. Now that the oft-floated solution to the problem of refugees fleeing perpetual war by bribing Erdogan to warehouse the migrants in Turkey is pretty well accepted to be a public relations gimmick, tossing Greece out the Schengen area seems to be the plan du jour. This from a Reuters story this morning, "EU Gives Greece Warning to Fix Border 'Neglect' ":
BRUSSELS — The EU executive concluded on Wednesday that Greece could face new border controls with other states of the free-travel Schengen zone in May if it does not fix "serious deficiencies" in its management of the area's external frontier.
"If the necessary action is not being taken and deficiencies persist, there is a possibility to ... allow member states to temporarily close their borders," European Commission Vice President Vice President told a news briefing after the executive accepted a report that Athens had "seriously neglected" its obligations to fellow Schengen states.
The move is part of a process in which EU governments aim to give them the option of reinstalling controls on their national borders for up to two years, once short-term derogations currently in place expire in May.
Following the arrival of more than a million irregular migrants in the European Union last year, most of them via Turkey into Greece from where they trekked northward to Germany, other EU member states have instituted emergency controls on their internal Schengen borders and have warned that they might effectively suspend Athens from the passport-free travel zone.
In practice, Greece has no land borders with the rest of the Schengen zone, so installing new frontier checks would affect only air and sea ports. Diplomats and officials have described the move to penalize tourism-dependent Greece as a means of raising pressure on Athens to implement EU measures intended to identify and register all those arriving from Turkey.James Kanter had a story ("E.U. Ministers Spar as Bloc’s Promise of Free Movement Wavers") about this move underway in Brussels to penalize Greece for the German-, British- and French-backed Saudi/U.S. war on Syria:
The European Union has been trying to persuade Turkey to take a more active role in resolving the crisis by doing more to look after refugees there and stop them from trying the journey to the European Union.
Another idea that has gained growing attention is to choke off some of the northward flow of migrants at the border between Greece and Macedonia, potentially leaving huge numbers of migrants in Greece at a time when that country is still recovering from its depression-like downturn.
On Monday, over lunch at the Dutch National Maritime Museum, the ministers discussed freezing the free movement of people inside parts of the bloc for up to a further two years.
So far, six countries, including Germany and Austria, have suspended the system for a legally permissible period of six months. For Germany and Austria, that six-month period expires in late spring, just as a surge of new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa is expected.
The ministers also agreed to continue hashing out plans to create a European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
That plan would double the staff of the current border agency, Frontex, and would create a separate reserve force to be deployed even when a member state rejects help. [!] But some politicians suspect a blunt power grab by Brussels intended to diminish national sovereignty.
Arriving at the meeting in Amsterdam, the Austrian interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, warned that “the external Schengen border will move back towards Central Europe” — a thinly veiled threat to exclude Greece from the passport-free area unless Athens acted more forcefully.Rather than work for peace in the Middle East, Western power brokers will carve up the European Union piecemeal and toss the chunks of flesh on a pyre to Ares.