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Time for the West to seek peace in Syria

If this week's peace conference is to be a success the West must stop trying to impose its own favoured outcome

THE decision of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to take part in discussions this Wednesday in Montreux is welcome.

The path to peace remains problematic because of the multiplicity of political entities with a stake in the war that has already cost the lives of over 100,000 people, driven two million from their homeland and displaced three times that number inside the country.

The fact that coalition representatives voted by just 58 to 14, with three abstentions, reveals that 45 members boycotted the meeting in Istanbul on Saturday.

This indicates that no large bets should be placed on the talks experiencing plain sailing.

However, the positive result reflects pressure on the SNC from its erstwhile enthusiastic backers in western capitals who have finally accepted that a conflict providing a training ground for jihadi forces could pose a serious blowback threat.

The generally accepted supposition that over 1,000 citizens from European states have taken up arms in Syria cannot be minimised.

British police have detained a small number of young men suspected of fighting for the opposition in Syria and will doubtless be tracking others on their return.

If some of them have, along with their counterparts in other European states, become integrated into a terrorist network, the consequences of a small number of highly trained and battle-hardened fighters continuing their activities at home could be dire.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has constantly depicted the war in Syria as a counter-terrorist operation.

While “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” might be a justified sceptical response, even the Nato powers that originally encouraged an armed uprising against the Assad regime are having second thoughts.

The ability of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) units to roam freely across the Iraqi-Syrian border, waging war against the governments of both countries, has begun to alarm Washington and its allies.

US Secretary of State John Kerry continues to insist that the whole point of peace talks is to arrange a political transition that would remove President Assad from office, but he must know that this is unlikely to happen.

More seriously, he and his allies in Europe might speculate how useful it would be to depose the head of a regime that has resisted the jihadi onslaught and appears in a stable position.

The Barack Obama administration was initially gung-ho for Assad’s deposal by force of arms, conspiring with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to provide internal opposition forces and fighters from other countries with weapons and finance.

The US president backed a Libya mark two plan to deploy Nato warplanes to neutralise the Syrian armed forces and usher in victory for the anti-Assad mobilisation, but this was scuppered by House of Commons votes.

Russia’s role in winning Damascus to agreement to destroy its chemical weapons and to negotiate with opposition representatives in Montreux has shown up the bankrupt warmongering role of Nato members.

The recent dawning of realism on the US and its European allies has to be expressed through a change in attitude from Wednesday onwards.

Iran must be involved in the quest for stability in Syria, Iraq and the broader region, with a view to ending arms supplies from all sides, securing a ceasefire, stepping up humanitarian aid and agreeing a framework for a democratic future for all Syrians.

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