A meeting in Vienna on Syria went on longer than expected and had an outcome that was as unexpected as it was welcome
For the first time in years, there is something positive to report in respect of a resolution of the Syrian civil war. This is a war that has reached far beyond Syrian borders — it has triggered a massive refugee crisis across the region with 11 million on the move, around a half of the entire population — and there are 250,000 dead and counting. It is a reef on which has foundered one aspect of American foreign policy, and a springboard from which Russia has leaped to the forefront militarily and diplomatically. It has a complexity that rivals the Palestinian question in terms of an answer (and on which it has an impact as well with Hezbollah in the mix) and there seemed to be no end in sight.
There is still no end in sight but there might be the start of the process that leads to a discussion about how an end may be crafted. To paraphrase Winston Churchill — this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. A meeting in Vienna attended by 17 states, all stakeholders and combatants, and including Iran as well as Saudi Arabia went on considerably longer than expected and had an outcome that was as unexpected as it was welcome. It did not dissolve into sterile acrimony though there will have been, at the very least, hard looks exchanged between some parties, and is resolved to meet again in a fortnight. That in itself has to be seen as a gain, and an indicator that enough of the parties in play want to continue the dialogue even as the war continues to be fought. The announcement that America is to field less than 50 special forces advisers to anti-Assad Kurdish forces fighting in the north of the country was made at the same time as the meeting in Vienna was drawing to a close. That was no accident. Jaw-jaw and war-war are to continue in parallel, by no means uncommon diplomatically, and there is a forum where none existed before. We wish this infant process well because too many have suffered for too long.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.
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