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Outcomes of the Sochi conclave on Syria

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Is Russia trying to replace UN with Sochi talks after the USA tried for years to make UN an integral part of CIA? Not exactly and on the contrarily!

Russia seeks genuine results of Syria talks to end the long war there began as part of Arab Spring.

The claims that the Sochi talks were some kind of a rouge operation to knock the UN talks out of the box were a complete hoax, mainly because Russia was coordinating Sochi with the UN, publicly stating they were no attempt so replace the UN. But the problem with UN is its all efforts to keep the talks going nowhere by constantly demanding pre-conditions.

In fact the UN talks had been bogged down by the Saudi High Negotiation Committee’s (HNC). When the UN is helpless, Sochi was designed to get around that roadblock. Sochi meant against the small group of deal killers like the HNC, that the majority would not be held hostage to their demands.

The opposition’s strategy can clearly be seen as an attempt to stall the political talks to give the US coalition time to crank up some new chaos in Syria to have them die of crib death. But it seems that the Turkish military entry as a part of US invasion of Syria (and larger West Asia perspective) invasion is one finger of that ploy.

Of course, Russia cannot solve all problems in Middle East since USA has planned very meticulously to destabilize the region minus Israel. Thus the whole purpose of Sochi was not to solve all the problems, but get the process jump started and quite visibly so towards finding an end first and then move on to the UN. The concluding twelve point statement was a home run in that regard, and the cherry on top was to move the next step in the process back to Geneva where some of the key issues could be solved.

All this can in no way be claimed as excluding the UN from the process, and the 1600 participants established a large and diverse representation of those wanting to move forward.

Moscow also believes Syrian puzzle cannot be fully resolved without freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of foreign forces and nations that invaded, devastated and destabilized that South Asian nation on the pretext of Sept-11. The critical focus now for a successful resolution to the Syrian crisis is to maintain momentum with the political process.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey have been organizing peace talks for Syria in the Kazakh capital of Astana since January 2017. Together, the three countries have been acting as guarantor states for the peace process. They continue their sincere efforts despite the US-Israeli interferences to disrupt the peace process as they did in Mideast peace process where Israel regulates for disaster the US sponsored bogus talks with the besieged Palestinians. .

Capitalizing on the achievements of Astana, Russia on January 29-30 convened a high-profile meeting on Syria — the Syrian Congress of National Dialog — in Sochi. President Puitn sponsored it.

One Syrian opposition faction, directly controlled by USA, boycotted the meeting, and some non-political groups opposed to Damascus later accused the UN of “rewarding” Russia “upfront” by dispatching Special Envoy de Mistura to the event before securing concessions from Russia and the Syrian government.

West Asia is in the process of geopolitical change and USA is likely to b lose its any importance it thinks it has had in the region. In fact, USA is not welcome in West Asia but America doesn’t want to let Russia occupy its space in the region. Russia and Iran are Syrian government allies and USA opposes them.

In fact, Saudi’s now “alliance” with Israel is only a tactic move to isolate Iran in the region which looks impossible mainly because Tehran has already gone board with its sectarian policy arming and promoting the Shiia forces. As USA and Israel continue to target Islam and promote its divisions, the sectarian attitudes cannot simply vanish from the scene all together.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who also took part in Sochi dialogue, has rejected criticism of the world body’s participation at Syrian peace talks in the Russian resort city of Sochi, praising the outcome of the discussions.  Speaking at a press conference at the UN headquarters New York, Guterres said the presence of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Misturain in Sochi was based on a common understanding between the UN and the Russian Federation on the nature and outcome of the meeting and its contribution to the UN-mediated Geneva process.

Absentees and disagreements

With the USA having proven to be a fake mediator in regional conflicts, Russia has taken the lead. The Sochi summit revealed the impotence of Russia as the main arbiter of the Syrian conflict. The Turk-Russian alliance that led the Astana process did not complement Geneva but in a way was aimed to replace it.

With Russia that has become a formidable rival to the USA in the Syrian theater, with Turkey outraged by Washington’s support for the adversarial Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and with Iran seen as a hostile element by the Trump regime, Geneva is becoming increasingly irrelevant to resolving the Syrian conflict.

Before the Sochi conclave, Russian President Putin had a telephonic conversation with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The leaders stressed the importance of implementing the reached agreements aimed at the effective promotion of the Syrian political settlement process on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Putin and Erdogan also discussed Russia-Turkey coordination to ensure stable operation of de-escalation zones in Syria and interaction in the Astana format.

There have been disagreements among the participants of the summit as well. For example, 83 delegates from the Syrian opposition unexpectedly refused to sit down for talks under the official Syrian flag. They kept 1,511 other participants waiting for several hours on Jan. 30 and finally boarded the plane and flew back to Turkey.

The Syrian Kurds, outraged by Turkey’s Afrin operation, boycotted the meeting. Not only was the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) absent from Sochi, but also absent was its main rival, the Kurdish National Council — a pro-Massoud Barzani alliance recognized by Turkey.  More interestingly, Abdel Basset Sieda, the former chairman of the Syrian National Council that Turkey formed and supported, not only refused to go to Sochi but also resigned from the Turkey-backed Syrian group. In sum, there was no real Syrian Kurdish representation in Sochi. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls a sizable swath of Syrian territory, was not in Sochi either.

The opening ceremony has been untypically chaotic for a meeting organized by Russia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech was interrupted several times by members of the audience shouting slogans. Thus, the Sochi meeting was crippled from the very beginning because of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin and the alienation of the Kurds.

Nonetheless, Russia pushed forward — at the end of deliberations, a communique that the Russian media titled “Syrian Congress in Sochi brings war-torn country closer to constitutional reform” was adopted.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisaged a “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition in order to end the conflict in Syria,” is to be realized in 18 months, but is long overdue. Indeed, the last part of the Sochi communique was a display of this helplessness. The communique said: “We agreed to form a constitutional committee comprising the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation along with a wide-represented opposition delegation for the drafting of a constitutional reform as a contribution to the political settlement under the UN auspices in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254. … We appeal to the UN secretary-general to assign the Special Envoy for Syria for the assistance of the Constitutional Committee work in Geneva”.

If Turkey’s Afrin operation drags on with high civilian casualties that can’t be concealed from the attention of the international public for long, the endorsement of Ankara could turn out to be a liability rather than an asset for those actors in the Syrian theater. “We continue to monitor the developments in northern Syria, which are a matter of grave concern,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, in an apparent change of tone that might be an indication of Russia’s position shift.

Sochi, by the last paragraphs of its communique, passes the ball to Geneva and implicitly declares the limitations of Russia in Syria. Indeed, Turkey, seeking genuine peace n the region, was quick to endorse the outcome of Sochi and link it to Geneva. In fact, Turkey has acted in a constructive manner about the Russian Federation’s Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative from the beginning.

 

Observation: light the other end of tunnel?  

The Sochi summit, ignored by USA and Israel that took place at the end of January, was designed to underline the successful achievements of Russia’s involvement in Syria and to consolidate the partnership among Russia, Turkey and Iran. However, the summit revealed the limitations of Russia’s Syria policy instead of Moscow’s growing influence across the Middle East.

The Sochi conference took place just days after the ninth round of UN-led Syria talks failed to achieve tangible results. That round was exceptionally held in the Austrian capital, Vienna, instead of its usual venue of Geneva. Around 1,600 delegates representing a wide range of Syrian political factions attended the Sochi talks. The event was boycotted by the High Negotiations Committee, which is based in and guided by Saudi Arabia.

The most important outcome of the congress was the call for the establishment of a Constitutional Committee and the selection of a pool of 150 candidates for this committee. The Turkish delegation, which was given the mandate to represent opposition groups that didn’t attend the congress, submitted a list of 50 candidates in consultation with the opposition.

The establishment process of the Constitutional Committee will be closely monitored by Turkey as the guarantor of the opposition.” Having decided on forming a constitutional committee comprising the regime in Damascus and an undefined but widely represented opposition delegation is only going back to square one: Geneva.

Syria welcomed the results of the event and stressed that its final statement affirmed that political progress in Syria cannot begin except under the Syrian leadership and without any foreign interference.

Turkey, seeking to remove Assad, is an ally of the Syrian opposition led by USA and backed by Israel. The collective efforts of the three countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran have significantly reduced fighting in Syria, have made an impact on the ground in the Arab country.

Thanks to its control over the Syrian opposition, Turkey definitely will have leverage in shaping the future steps of the resolution process. However, its military operation in Afrin and its ever-widening chasm with Washington are making Ankara more reliant on Moscow. The latest standoff in Idlib revealed this. The Idlib rift also implies how difficult it would be for Moscow to reconcile the differences among its partners in Syria.

While there is no visible opposition protests worldwide to US intervention in Syria- the real cause of war in Syria and West Asia- criticism is leveled against Turkish intervention in Syria to target the Kurds. That is to say USA and Israel can do any devilish nonsense and cause more serious problems, but Turkey cannot do that. US-Israeli fascist duo arranges protests against Turkey.

In contrast, a peace process held under the auspices of the UN — that in Geneva — has achieved little and hence the importance of Sochi. That has angered some Western and Arab governments opposed to the Syrian government and some groups of Syrian opposition backed by those governments. They insist that the Geneva process be given more importance despite its failure so far to make meaningful achievements.

Saudi Arabia, like Israel and USA, thinks it owns and controls the region and does not take any interest in solving the regional problems and it does not allow any other power to try that.

Guterres appreciated Russia’s engagement with the UN regarding the Syria talks. He highlighted the key subjects of the 12-point final Sochi statement, saying that the document embraced a vision of Syria for all its citizens and underlined the need for the formation of a Constitutional Committee under UN auspices.

Syria is likely to return to normalcy without or with Assad in power that, in order for his own survival, got thousands killed by the invading foreign forces, by the Opposition forces and by his own forces. Unlike President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Col Gaddafi, Sunni leaders whom USA murdered mercilessly, Assad is lucky to survive the US led attacks mainly because the CIA does not target his life but destabilization of Syria.

Meanwhile, President Putin is getting ready for the March elections, and Erdogan could call for early elections this coming summer. The partnership between the two men and the seemingly converging interests of the two countries constitute a strong connection to the domestic political calculations of both strongmen. Iran stands to benefit from both.

Middle East

Middle Eastern autocrats sigh relief: the US signals Democracy Summit will not change policy

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The United States has signalled in advance of next week’s Summit for Democracy that it is unlikely to translate lip service to adherence to human rights and democratic values in the Middle East into a policy that demonstrates seriousness and commitment.

In a statement, the State Department said the December 9-10 summit would “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.” e State Department said that in advance of the summit, it had consulted with government experts, multilateral organisations, and civil society “to solicit bold, practicable ideas” on “defending against authoritarianism,” “promoting respect for human rights,” and fighting corruption.

Of the more than 100 countries alongside civil society and private sector representatives expected to participate in the summit, only Israel is Middle Eastern, and a mere eight are Muslim-majority states. They are Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Albania, Iraq, Kosovo, Niger, and the Maldives.

US President Joe Biden has made the competition between democracy and autocracy a pillar of his administration policy and put it at the core of the United States’ rivalry with China.

We’re in a contest…with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Mr. Biden said.

Yet, recent statements by the Pentagon and a White House official suggested that, despite the lofty words, US Middle East policy is likely to maintain long-standing support for the region’s autocratic rule in the belief that it will ensure stability.

Popular revolts in the past decade that toppled leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, and Lebanon suggest that putting a lid on the pot was not a solution. That is true even if the achievements of the uprisings were either rolled back by Gulf-supported counter-revolutionary forces or failed to achieve real change.

To be sure, Gulf states have recognized that keeping the pot covered is no longer sufficient. As a result, countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have developed plans and policies that cater to youth aspirations with economic and social reforms while repressing political freedoms.

The US appears to be banking on the success of those reforms and regional efforts to manage conflicts so that they don’t spin out of control.

On that basis, the United States maintains a policy that is a far cry from standing up for human rights and democracy. It is a policy that, in practice, does not differ from Chinese and Russian backing of Middle Eastern autocracy. Continuous US public and private references to human rights and democratic values and occasional baby steps like limiting arms sales do not fundamentally alter things.

Neither does the United States’ choice of partners when it comes to responding to popular uprisings and facilitating political transition. In dealing with the revolt in Sudan that in 2019 toppled President Omar al-Bashir and a military coup in October, both the Trump and Biden administration turned to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Israel. While Israel is a democracy, none of the US partners favour democratic solutions to crises of governance.

White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk signalled this in an interview with The National, the UAE’s flagship English-language newspaper, immediately after a security summit in Bahrain that brought together officials from across the globe. US officials led by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sought to use the conference to reassure America’s allies that the United States was not turning its back on ensuring regional security.

Mr. McGurk said that the United States had drawn conclusions from “hard lessons learnt” and was going “back to basics.” Basics, Mr. McGurk said, in a nod primarily to Iran but potentially also to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, entailed dumping “regime change policies.” He said the US would focus on “the basics of building, maintaining, and strengthening our partnerships and alliances” in the Middle East.

Mr. McGurk’s articulation of a back-to-basics policy was reinforced this week with the publication of a summary of the Pentagon’s Global Posture review, suggesting that there would be no significant withdrawal of US forces from the region in Mr. Biden’s initial years in office.

The notion of back to basics resonates with liberals in Washington’s foreign policy elite. Democracy in the Middle East is no longer part of their agenda.

“Instead of using US power to remake the region…policymakers need to embrace the more realistic and realisable goal of establishing and preserving stability,” said Council of Foreign Relations Middle East expert Steven A. Cook even before Mr. Biden took office.” What Washington needs is not a ‘war on terror’ built on visions of regime change, democracy promotion, and ‘winning hearts and minds’ but a realistic approach focused on intelligence gathering, police work, multilateral cooperation and the judicious application of violence when required,” he added.

Mr. Cook went on to say that a realistic US Middle East policy would involve “containing Iran, retooling the fight against terrorism, to reduce its counterproductive side effects, reorganizing military deployments to emphasize the protection of sea-lanes, and downscaling the US-Israeli relationship to reflect Israel’s relative strength.”

The United States is in good company in its failure to put its money where its mouth is regarding human rights and democratic values.

The same can be said for European nations and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority state and democracy. Indonesia projects itself directly and indirectly through Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement, as the only major supporter of a moderate interpretation of Islam that embraces human rights without reservations and pluralism and religious tolerance.

That has not stopped Indonesia from allegedly caving into a Saudi threat not to recognize the Indonesian Covid-19 vaccination certificates of pilgrims to the holy cities of Mecca and Media if the Asian state voted for an extension of a United Nations investigation into human rights violations in the almost seven-year-old war in Yemen.

Similarly, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates on cooperation on religious affairs even though the UAE’s version of a moderate but autocratic Islam stands for values that reject freedoms and democracy.

The agreements were part of a much larger package of economic, technological, and public health cooperation fuelled by US$32.7 billion in projected Emirati investments in Indonesia.

The Biden administration’s reluctance, in line with a long list of past US presidents, to do substantially more than pay lip service to the promotion of human rights and democratic values brings to mind Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

President George W. Bush and his then-national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, acknowledged two decades ago that jihadist violence and the 9/11 attacks were partly the results of the United States’ failure to stand up for its values. They bungled, however, their effort to do something about it, as did Barak Obama.

It is not only the Middle East and other regions’ autocracies that pay the price. So do the United States and Europe. Their refusal to integrate their lofty ideals and values into effective policies is increasingly reflected at home in domestic racial, social, and economic fault lines and anti-migrant sentiment that threatens to tear apart the fabric of democracy in its heartland.

The backlash of failing to heed Mr. Einstein’s maxim and recognizing the cost associated with saying one thing and doing another is not just a loss of credibility. The backlash is also the rise of isolationist, authoritarian, xenophobic, racist, and conspiratorial forces that challenge the values in which human rights and democracy are rooted.

That raises the question of whether the time, energy, and money invested in the Summit of Democracy could not have been better invested in fixing problems at home. Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh nailed it by noting that “shoring up democracy is almost entirely domestic work.”

It’s a message that has not been lost on democracy’s adversaries. In what should have been a warning that hollow declaratory events like the Summit of Democracy are not the answer, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told last September’s United Nations General Assembly: “The United States’ hegemonic system has no credibility, inside or outside the country.”

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Middle East

International Solidarity Day with the people of Palestine

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Since 1948, the people of Palestine were suffering due to Israeli oppression and aggression. Despite several resolutions on Palestine passed by the United Nation, Israel has not implemented either of them. Despite the struggle from all peace-loving nations, in various forms, the Palestinian people have not yet been given the right of self-determination, or self-rule, and are yet, forced to leave their land, homes and stay in refugee camps or migrate to foreign countries to live a miserable life. After failure from all aspects, the United Nations desp[erately declared to mark International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

In 1977, the General Assembly called for the annual observance of 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (resolution 32/40 B). On that day, in 1947, the Assembly adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine (resolution 181 (II))

In resolution 60/37 of 1 December 2005, the Assembly requested the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, as part of the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November, to continue to organize an annual exhibit on Palestinian rights or a cultural event in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN.

The resolution on the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People also encourages the Member States to continue to give the widest support and publicity to the observance of the Day of Solidarity.

The government and the people of Pakistan join the world community in observing the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (29 November).

The commemoration of this day is a reminder to the international community that the question of Palestine remains unresolved and the Palestinian people are yet to realize their inalienable right to self-determination as provided in various resolutions of the United Nations. It is also an occasion to reiterate our support and solidarity for the Palestinian people who continue to wage a just struggle against the illegal and brutal occupation.

On this day, Pakistan reaffirms its consistent and unstinted support for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause, which has always been a defining principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

The international community must shoulder its responsibility to protect the lives and fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, and play its rightful role in promoting a just and lasting resolution of the Palestinian question per international legitimacy in the interest of durable peace and stability in the Middle East. The international community should also ensure accountability for the widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the occupied territories.

We renew our call on this day for a viable, independent, and contiguous Palestinian State, with pre-1967 borders, and Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital being the only just, comprehensive and lasting solution of the Palestinian question, under the relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions.

The purpose of marking this day is to remind the whole world that the people of Palestine deserve your attention and your time to think about their sufferings. It is to remind that the whole world should understand the issue and try their best to solve it according to the UN resolutions. Those who believe in justice, may raise their voice in favor of the Palestinian people and condemn Israeli barbarism and atrocities. This Day invites all of you to join the [peaceful struggle of Palestinian people for their legitimate rights. Irrespective of your profession, social status, or your religion or race, you may support the Palestinian cause for justice on humanitarian grounds and keep your struggle till the people of Palestine gets their legitimate status and rights on equal footings according to the UN resolutions.

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Middle East

Israel-Palestine: Risk of ‘deadly escalation’ in violence, without decisive action

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photo: UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

With violence continuing daily throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process urged the Security Council on Tuesday to adopt a more coordinated approach to the region.  

Tor Wennesland told Council Members that “recent developments on the ground are worrying”, pointing out the situation in the West Bank and Gaza and the challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority.  

“I therefore emphasize again the importance of concerted efforts by the parties to calm things on the ground. I am concerned that if we do not act quickly and decisively, we risk plunging into another deadly escalation of violence”, he warned. 

He informed that, in the last month, violence resulted in the death of four Palestinians, including two children, and injuries to 90 others – including 12 children – due to action by Israeli Security Forces. 

One Israeli civilian was killed in the same period, and nine civilians, including one woman and one child, and six members of ISF were injured.  

Challenges 

Mr. Wennesland said that a severe fiscal and economic crisis is threatening the stability of Palestinian institutions in the West Bank. 

At the same time, he added, “ongoing violence and unilateral steps, including Israeli settlement expansion, and demolitions, continue to raise tensions, feed hopelessness, erode the Palestinian Authority’s standing and further diminish the prospect of a return to meaningful negotiations.” 

In Gaza, the cessation of hostilities continues to hold, but the Special Envoy argued that “further steps are needed by all parties to ensure a sustainable solution that ultimately enables a return of legitimate Palestinian Government institutions to the Strip.” 

Settlements 

The Special Coordinator also said that “settler-related violence remains at alarmingly high levels.” 

Overall, settlers and other Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank perpetrated some 54 attacks against Palestinians, resulting in 26 injuries. Palestinians perpetrated 41 attacks against Israeli settlers and other civilians, resulting in one death and nine injuries.  

Mr. Wennesland highlighted a few announcements of housing units in settlements, reiterating that “that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.” 

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have also advanced plans for some 6,000 housing units for Palestinians in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Issawiya and some 1,300 housing units for Palestinians living in Area C (one of the administrative areas in the occupied West Bank, agreed under the Oslo Accord). 

The Special Envoy welcomed such steps but urged Israel to advance more plans and to issue building permits for all previously approved plans for Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem. 

Humanitarian aid delivered 

Turning to Gaza, the Special Envoy said that humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction efforts continued, along with other steps to stabilize the situation on the ground. 

He called the gradual easing of restrictions on the entry of goods and people “encouraging”, but said that the economic, security and humanitarian situation “remains of serious concern.” 

The Special Envoy also mentioned the precarious financial situation of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which still lacks $60 million to sustain essential services this year. 

The agency has yet to pay the November salaries of over 28,000 UN personnel, including teachers, doctors, nurses and sanitation workers, many of whom support extended families, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where unemployment is high.  

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