The second session of the Middle East conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, titled "Syria: After War, Peace" was devoted to the prospects for the reconstruction of this country. Alexander Aksenyonok, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation; Vice-President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Raghida Dergham, Founder and Executive Chairman, Beirut Institute, Ramzy E. Ramzy, Deputy Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President, Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), took part at the session. Moderator was Hrair Balian, Director, Conflict Resolution Program, The Carter Center.
The Syrian conflict has lasted more than 7 years and became the largest since end of the Cold War. Experts agreed that now it is most important to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria. This is in the interests of all parties of the conflict, as well as maintaining control over the situation. In the current conditions, a zero-sum outcome is impossible, because the government controls only about 60% of the territory, but the resources of the opposition are not unlimited. The problem can only be solved politically by engaging all parties.
The panelists emphasized, that the future of Syria should be determined by the citizens of the country. But they recognized that it is hardly possible without the support of the international community. A special role should be played by major world powers, such as Russia, the United States, Turkey, and regional actors.
International players involved in the Syrian conflict (Russia, the United States, Turkey) have divided their areas of interest and are trying to avoid direct clashes between themselves.
The Russian Aerospace Forces’ presence in Syria is legitimate in accordance with the norms of international law. The United States has been conducting an anti-terrorist operation in Syria since 2014 and plans to maintain a military presence in the country, so that the ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation) does not reappear. In January 2018 Turkey launched a military operation against the armed formations of Syrian Kurds in the Afrin area in north-west Syria.
According to Raghida Dergham, there is a hope that there will be mutual understanding between Moscow and Washington. This should benefit not only the situation in Syria, but the entire region. Meanwhile, Iran remains the main stumbling block, which, according to Washington, exports its values to other countries. Russia can help to solve this problem, Dergam said, because it has influence on Tehran. Otherwise, the conflict can reach a new level, including possible war between Iran and Israel.
Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, noted that the Syrian conflict has three dimensions: strategic, political and socio-economic. Each of them needs its own settlement.
At to the strategic level, geopolitical technologies were used in Syria, which led to armed protests and the weakening of statehood. Also, according to the diplomat, it has to be repeated in some other countries of the region. According to him, the Russian-Iranian cooperation is directed to solve the problem at this level, but the US and its allies in the region oppose it.
Speaking about the political settlement, Sajjadpour stressed, that the Syrian conflict can not be resolved by military means. The parties must sit down at the negotiating table. This is the work at the Astana process, as well as at the congress of the national Syrian dialogue, which was held in Sochi in January.
The disarmament of the conflicting parties and the beginning of the social and economic reconstruction of the country with the support of the United Nations, the international community and Russia should become the most important element on the socio-economic level.
Alexander Aksenyonok stressed, that Syria suffered the greatest losses from the Arab spring among the countries of the region. According to the diplomat, the West and the EU would like to help Syria, but do not wish to help the incumbent President Bashar Assad. This de facto leads to the division of Syria. To prevent this, Moscow and Washington should encourage their allies in the country to start setting up institutions on inclusive terms by launching the process of integration of the country from within.
The creation of a new constitution remains a particularly important issue on the agenda. Russia proceeds from the premise, that negotiations between the parties must take place within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. A list of candidates to the constitutional commission was approved in Sochi (100 people from the government, taking into account the internal moderate opposition and 50 from the external opposition). Together with Staffan de Mistura , special envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, proposals for a new basic law of the country should be prepared.
Ramzy E. Ramzy, Deputy Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, noted that he saw in the hall representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition. On the road to peace the understanding is important both between Russia and the United States, and between regional powers. Ramzy particularly noted the results of the Astana process, which helped to form four de-escalation zones. However, the situation is not changing for the better, he admitted, and this can lead not only to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, but also to a new confrontation.
According to Ramzy, in order to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria, it is necessary to work in three directions:
1- within the framework of the congress of the Syrian national dialogue with the support of Iran and Turkey.
2 - to develop a new constitution. This process was supported by the UN Security Council.
3 - the settlement of the situation in Afrin, where it is important to keep the situation under control and to observe the interests of all stakeholders, including Turkey.
There is still a lot of work to do, but there should be the light at the end of the tunnel, the Deputy Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General concluded.