Jan Weatherhead writes from Washington: Let’s not get too excited but the international A-team is using up its air miles to find a breakthrough in the Syrian civil war.
All eyes are on the state-board leak tube here in this nation’s capital. But the insiders are looking further west – as far as Beijing. Why? Because State Department and UN insiders are saying that when the UN Security Council meets on Thursday China could, as they say overlooking the East River, hold most of the marbles.
So why the buzz? It started Sunday when the Arab League pulled their top level meeting to agree Kofi Annan’s replacement as UN Arab League peace envoy to Syria. The job’s been lined up for the Algerian Mr Fix-It, Lakhdar Brahimi. Why was the meeting a no show? Because the Americans, the Saudis and the UN in tow thought some deal could be done to get the Chinese involved. China along with Russia are the Resolution blockers in the Security Council. Was the assumption right? The answer is maybe, because the backstairs dealing is becoming more visible.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has sent a personal envoy to the Chinese capital. The politics of this begins with the assumption that no one but no one sends an envoy to Beijing unless Beijing first sends the invite. This will be talks only at officials’ level, but that doesn’t matter. These are officials who know how far everyone will be allowed to travel towards some understanding.
The second deal being offered is that China is making it known that they want to talk to Syrian opposition leaders.
Now put the two lines together and you can see what could be happening. Beijing is playing peace maker. So any appointment of Brahimi is, to say the least, premature and at this point getting in the way of soft diplomacy.
Also, this ties in with China’s continuous line of argument that military force is a pointless intervention and has said all along that however difficult the terms, there has to be a ceasefire before anything can be decided between the two sides. Kofi Annan said this was the way to go but the Chinese always understood that much more blood had to seep into Syria’s battle grounds before either side would blink.
Only the Iranians are against a ceasefire. They don’t want Syria to back down because they would lose their one hard-line ally in the region.
There’s one segment of this diplomatic puzzle to understand. When the then Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab left for Jordan last week, the Intelligence agencies wanted one single piece of information from his defection: the state of mind and strength of the Al Assads. He’s told the debriefers that he believes the Al Assads are taking too many hits “financially and militarily”. Does that mean they’re ready to quit? Not necessarily. It could mean they’re ready to talk.
That’s about the only progress we’ve seen in 17 months. But it’s a start.