tv Inside Story Al Jazeera January 23, 2014 11:30am-12:01pm EST
ancient doll found on ebay. the items were returned from private citizens all around the world. i'm del walters, and "inside story" is next. check us out 24 hours a day on aljazeera.com. the americans, the russians, the syrians, the iranians, have all set out their bottom lines for syria's future. it can't all happen. the bloody civil war and the peace conference in was switzerland are the inside story. ♪ hello, i'm ray suarez.
syrians are continuing to fight and die in hellish conditions. even as some of the world's best-known diplomats descended in geneva. the powerful gathering is talking about peace but have presented very different ideas about whether bashar al-assad stays or goes. meanwhile iran able to continue to fuel the fire, are publicly doubting the chance for success. and assad is ready to fight to the last syria. foreign negotiations gathered in the stated hopes of drafting a plan to bring peace to syria, but right from the start, he hard lines of division between many of the participates,
especially the syrian government and leaders of the opposition, cast doubt on the success of the conference. >> translator: the syrian people aspire to have a strong army that protects their assets, land, and ethnicity, protects it's borders and land. >> the syrian foreign minister, denounced the proceedings and the participants. >> translator: in one in the world has the right to give or take legitimacy to a president, go, or constitution, or law or anything in syria, except for the syrians themselves. this is their right, and what will be agreed to here, whatever it is should be put to a popular referendum. we are here to decide what the people want and not to decide their fate. >> he held the line insisting
assad will remain in power as long as the syrians wanted him too. the infuriated conference participants by speaking at length despite requests to stop. >> thank you -- >> i will finish one sentence. >> okay. just keep your promise. one sentence. >> okay. syria always keeps its promise. [ laughter ] >> the opposition held to its position as well. >> translator: any talk of assad staying in power will be a derailment of the geneva 1 pact. >> from the outset of these talks organized with the diplomatic muscle of the
united states and russia, they agreed that assad must go. >> mutual consent, which has brought us here for a transition government means that that government cannot be objected to by one side or another. that means that bashar al-assad will not be part of that transition government. there is no way, no way possible in the imagination that the man who has lead the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimatesy to govern. >> the russians suggested there was a role for his government in the transition. >> translator: we cannot let all outside players to encourage the syrians in coming to agreement. refrain and restrain the parties predetermining the agreements. >> and the russian foreign
minister suggested again, syria's regional ally, iran should participate in the talks. iran's president expressed little hope for the talks. >> translator: the islamic republic of iron wibs for peace and stability in the region, and the end of the internal war and fighting the terrorists. >> completing for the world's attention is the publication this week of a large cashe of videos and photographs, f the torture and murder of captives. whether or not these talks will result in the creation of
leadership transition for syria, remains to be scene. meanwhile the nearly three-year-old war goes on. rebels and government forces clashed today in and around damascus, the syrian capital. ♪ >> joining me now from montreal switzerland is nick schifrin. did these first day's deliberations expose how far apart the parties really are? >> they absolutely did, ray. i think the word a lot of people here are using is the chasm. you have one side denying that nay have to even consider talking about removing assad from power. we saw in an interview that assad was considering running
for president again in the next election. and you have the other side all saying they have agreed to geneva 1, to create a transitional government that would not include assad at all. and the rhetoric, very inflammatory. you heard from the syrian foreign minister, and the syrian oppositioning a kuzed the government of being terrorists, that's a word they are both using for each other. and the u.s. is really trying to tamp down expectations. they are saying this is a victory simply by being here. the fact that we're here is a victory, we understand that we're not going to get any kind of quick peace of break through in the next couple of days, but at least we're talking, at least the two sides are throwing rhetorical lobs at each other rather than fighting each other in syria, of course that
fighting continues ray. >> montreal is a fairly small city. the talked ended up there because there was no room for them in geneva is this close proximi proximity resulting in an uncomfortable encounter. >> it is almost like reading tea leafs on what going on around the people when the camera is not on them. the syrian government representatives are up that way about 500 meters, a and the syria opposition is only about 100 feet from me. but there's no indication that they have any able to actually
meet, shake hands, and sneak a little talk around the corner or something, until they have to. and that day will come on friday morning, tomorrow. the special representative who is really running these talks, he'll sit down with the opposition, and say look, what are you guying willing to do? we'll pass that along to the syrian government, and his hope is by friday morning, he can sit them around a table and actually get them to talk to each other, even if the two sides are so far apart. at least they are talking. >> from very early on it was clear the united states was not going to intervene militarily in syria. once that was off the table what kind of leverage does john kerry have left to bring to bare on the assad government? >> i think it's the key question. the goal of this conference is to create the transitional
government and get rid of assad, but in reality assad is doing what he wants when he wants. and he feels like he has impunity to continue what opposition leaders are calling barrel bombs, and so he feels like he can continue to do that, to the u.s. is trying to find a pressure point, trying to convince assad somehow that he can't continue on this violent path. so given that that military option is mostly off of the table, what kerry is trying to do is isolate the assad regime. the rhetoric is new from the united states. you understand that kerry is trying to say, assad is by himself. the family and the regime are by themselves. this is not syria, this is simply one family and their determination to stay in power, and kerry's goal is is to
isolate him so much diplomatically that he feels he can't continue that violence. and isolate him so much that iran and russia feel they can't continue to back him. but there's no indication that that is actually working yet. assad continues this violence. russia and iran as you just laid out are continuing to support him, so the real question of how far you can get if anywhere with this conference until kerry and the u.s. can find that pressure point to convince everyone to stop supporting assad. >> for months now people have been shifting the public utterances of sergey lavrov trying to find out if russia is looking beyond assad. one week it sounds like they are ready to acknowledge there will be a post assad syria, the next week they are right behind him 100%. all the way.
where are they now? >> i think we have to look at it two ways strategically. for russia syria is its access to the mediterranean. and so for russia to give up syria is like giving up access to the entire half of europe, africa and anything to the west, so strategically russia has no intention of giving up access to the mediterranean, so yet, russia has signed the geneva 1 communique. it has pledged that it will consider a transitional government that will remove assad. so they are trying to play both cards right now. so what kerry is trying to do, very diplomatically with the russians, is to ease russia toward that point that we talked about, ease russia towards the notion that it can't support assad anybody. it doesn't have the diplomatic
leverage and assad doesn't have the support in order for russia to show their financial and military support to the government. and yet russia still hasn't been convinced of that. one report last week said there were more military weapons going into syria than ever before. so that's not challenge, for kerry to try to convince russia that assad is truly isolated and we have to move on to a syria that has no future with assad. >> a quick break now, and when we come back i'll have more guests to talk with, including the man who works closely with he syrian coalition. stay with us.
switzerland, as the syrian sifl war enters its third year, leaders are trying to bring an end to the bloodshed. with the rise of al-qaeda and other extremist groups, has assad become the west's least-worst option. joining us is the former u.s. ambassador to nato. in oklahoma, director of the center for middle east studies at the university of oklahoma, he is the author of "syriacomment.com". and the director of government relations for the syrian national council. you heard nick schifrin
reporting on john kerry's views that the syrian regime is totally isolated. that assad is all alone. is that really true in if all he had left was the army wouldn't be this over already? >> i -- i believe that -- what the united states of america is doing right now is pursuing a one track approach. they are working on diplomacy, and not paying attention to what is happening on the battlefield. assad is receiving substantial support, and regardless of whether this conference will lead anywhere -- >> but isn't there a fraction of the syrian people that still supports this man? >> i wouldn't say a sizable fraction. if he had a sizable fraction, he wouldn't have to bomb his own people. he feels he has to use every single weapon in his arsenal in
order to stay in power, and bring in militias, from iraq, hezbollah mall -- militia. so if he had this support, he couldn't need all of that. >> what do you make of that same question? where does he stand with the syrian people today? >> well, i think he feels very strong. the united states has spent a little less than $2 billion on this. that's the equivalent of 2 day's of spending at the height of the iraq war, and yet it continues to say he has to accept aside, and he hasn't pt. the opposition is in full chaos, well over a thousand opposition people have killed each other in a war against the al-qaeda-linked group, and -- so assad finds himself in not a
good position. he is weak, but he is strong compared to the rebels, and he has strong backers. the russians and iranians, hezbollah come to his aid with money, men, and arms. he has an air force, tanks and armor. none of those thing do the rebels have. he has a central command. even though he may have less troops on the ground in any one battle, he has prevailed in most. and this is the problem that the world confronts today. they are telling him to step aside and he is thumbing his nose at them. and until f-16s are flying over the horizon of damascus, he will continue to be confident that he can hold his ground. >> so this is a question of as much his will as the international communities. >> right. you have a government in the
form of bashar al-assad, that has the preponderance on his side and the will to kill as many people as necessary to stay in power, and there is no force that can push back on that enough to force him to want to reach a settlement. the shunny extremists, sometimes al-qaeda related pushback on the assad regime, and that scares a number of us in the west to say we don't want to see that in power either. but there is no support for anything substantial of a moderate syrian opposition, free syrian army, that could challenge assad to the point where he feels he needs to negotiate for peace. instead. geneva is just a diplomatic vehicle. and he talks into that room or the syrian delegation walks into
the room and there they see the russians. they know the iranians are there. and hezbollah is in the country fighting for them. so he feels to pressure whatsoever. >> has division among the opposition been an asset for bashar al-assad? >> well, before i answer your question, i would like to clarify one thing for your viewers. agree with both of your guests. he will continue, you know, with the mass slaughtering of civilians in syria. however, i would just like to clarify if you take a close look at what is happening on the ground right now, you would realize an al-qaeda-affiliated group has used more than 25 car bombs against opposition groups. so what is happening now, these -- these groups are fighting against the opposition. a few days ago there was a woman
trying to blow herself up at the border crossing with turkey. so the opposition is in a tough position because they are fighting against al-qaeda, against iranians, against hezbollah, against the assad regime, and militias from iraq. and that is a problem. the united states needs to work with the opposition that we like, that we syrians would love to see in charge of future syria, to strengthen their support on the ground to get meaningful concessions in geneva. >> we'll take a brief break now, and when we return, we'll talk about what assad is holding on for. and what the end game is for his supporters. this is "inside story." stay with us.
geneva where the syrian opposition is expected to sit across the table with representatives of the syrian go. diplomats from the un will be overseaing it all, progress or not, it's quite striking the two sides have come together three years into in conflict. professor, i'm wondering why, if you know or could speculate, why bashar al-assad didn't take the offer to leave syria early on in this time line. he could have been a fabulously wealthy man and lived out his days in tremendous comfort. but instead of choosing to be that, he is deciding to stick with damascus, even if it means he'll be the king of the rubble when it's all over. why do you think that is? >> first of all it's an minority regime. t the
theal -- alloite, christians, and jews who back him. and there are also many wealthy syrians who back him. but the point -- i think that your guests have drawn a picture of assad being unwilling to negotiate. and that's not clear. he is certainly unwilling to leave power, and he is willing to fight to stay in power, but he might very well be willing to negotiate. he said he would talk about a truce. what kind of truce? one doesn't know. there is a partition of syria that has taken place. the rebels own the north and the east, assad owns the south and the west. it is possible that he would accept some sort of truce in
syria. and it's quite possible that the iranians and russians would accept that, if the other backers of the rebels would accept it as well -- >> it's no longer assad's call alone. outside factors come into play. >> there are several year. there is a shiite interest in keeping alloites in power, russian has an interest in keeping its presence in the middle east through the regime in syria, so there are a lot of outside factors that are urging him to fight, stay in power and not give up. and yes, he is willing to negotiate on things that are going to achieve his goals. he is not willing to compromise in the sense that he is willing to give up power, share power,
to try to build an inclusive syria with the opposition now. he has put all bets down on fighting and killing his way to power. >> and the idea that his backers will be pulled away from him now starts to look a little remote, doesn't it? >> well, i think the americans think that they might be able to win the russians over if the russians are happy with the agreement. if an agreement is reached. the agreement they are hoping to reach in geneva that they will give up assad in return for other elements of the assad regime, you know, staying in power. i -- i don't belief -- you know, i don't believe assad would allow such a thing to happen. in fact this whole delegation that is in geneva now supposedly negotiating on behalf of bashar al-assad, if all of them defected it would not cause much damage to the assad regime,
because it is basically the army and security apparatus. >> has the united states painted itself into a corner by creating such a narrow definition of what it is willing to accept? >> well, this is the minimum requirement for the syrian people -- for the 2.5 million syrians in refugee camps, about 10 million in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. these people will not accept assad or his hinchmen or cronies in power, because they don't aspire confidence. >> thank you all. that brings us to the end of this edition of "inside story." thanks for beings with us. in washington, i'm ray suarez. ♪