The Assad regime is putting out feelers for talks with rebel forces to discuss the possibility of a unity government. But negotiations do not appear realistic.
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem reached out over the weekend to “Nationalist” opposition forces to join a dialogue over joining a unity Cabinet.
Any rebel group could join the talks, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reported – but Muallem set conditions.
Anyone joining the negotiations had to agree to reject foreign intervention, and there was to be no discussion about the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
That automatically ruled out the mainstream opposition entity, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The National Syrian Coalition, as it is called, both calls for an end to Assad’s regime and is backed by Western powers.
The question thus remains whether there is anyone with whom to carry out a dialogue?
The only other rebel organization coalition is a group comprised of 13 radical Islamist factions that coalesced several months ago, a number of whom are linked to Al Qaeda. That coalition declared the city of Aleppo, Syria’s northern commercial hub, to be a new “independent Islamist state.” Most roads into the city have since been cut off, with only the Damascus-Aleppo Highway still open as a reliable artery into the city.
Muallem told Syrian state television on Saturday that despite the raging civil war, “I say we should continue” with the dialogue. Nevertheless, he said, “No one should dare to discuss the position of the president... this is unacceptable.”
The foreign minister called on the United Nations to secure Syria’s borders in his talk, which came one week following a statement in which U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Assad should take no part in any transitional government plan.
More than 60,000 people have died since the civil war was ignited in March 2011 by a simple, scrawled bit of grafitti on a wall in Dera’a by a teenager inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings that had swept the region. The international community -- including Israel -- has expressed increasing concern over the impending fate of Syria's massive chemical and biological weapons arsenal.