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Syrian Opposition demands regime change, calls it a ‘peace plan’

Syrian soldiers, who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army, hold up their rifles as they secure a street in Saqba, in Damascus suburbs, in this January 27, 2012 file photo. People have described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Reuters as a head of state fully abreast of events on the ground - not the mere puppet of hardliners that some have portrayed - "relaxed and phlegmatic", and determined to see off the challenge, offering some reforms, strictly on his own terms. While few rate his long-term prospects highly, all is not lost, at least for now. Assad's troops swiftly drove back the more lightly armed rebels from the outskirts of Damascus and many foresee a long struggle yet for a country, at the heart of the Middle East, that is trapped in a "balance of weakness". Picture taken January 27, 2012. To match Insight SYRIA/ASSAD REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/Files (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY)

As fighting in Syria continues, with the Syrian army continuing to gain ground around Aleppo and in the countryside near Damascus whilst the Turkish army in the north east of Syria steadily expands the area of its control, the Syrian opposition in Geneva has announced what it calls its peace plan.

It  is clear that this peace plan has been drawn up in close consultation with the Syrian opposition’s external sponsors – primarily the US, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

According to the BBC the peace plan contains three stages:

“(1) Six months of negotiations between opposition and government representatives, using a 2012 document known as the Geneva Communique as a basis for discussions. Both sides would also commit to a temporary truce, lift sieges, allow full humanitarian access and release detainees;

(2) A transitional period lasting a year and a half would start with the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as well as the departure of Mr Assad and other senior officials accused of committing “heinous crimes”. A new constitution would be drafted during this phase, and a democratic and pluralistic political system established;

(3) Changes to the constitution would be agreed, the outcomes of a national dialogue implemented, and elections held under UN supervision.”

The key sticking point of the peace plan is in provision (2), which requires “the departure of Mr. Assad and other senior officials accused of committing “heinous crimes””.  In other words the Syrian opposition and its foreign backers continue to insist as a precondition for peace that President Assad go.

Every so often stories circulate that Western governments or the Turkish government or the Syrian opposition have reconciled themselves to the reality that President Assad is here to stay.  These are invariably seized on by those looking for some sort of rapprochement between the West and Russia or some greater realignment of the part of Turkey.

In reality neither the Syrian opposition nor its foreign sponsors – including the US and Turkey – have ever wavered from their demand that President Assad must go.  All they have ever been willing to do is make the purely practical proposal that President Assad stay in office for a brief period until “a transitional governing body with full executive powers” takes over. 

That this “transitional governing body” will in effect be controlled by the Syrian opposition is shown by the demand that not just President Assad but all senior officials in the Syrian government who are accused (by whom?) of ‘heinous crimes” be excluded from it.

This is not a peace plan. It is a pitch to the Russians to agree to a mechanism for regime change to the Western backed Syrian opposition from President Assad.   

The Saudis have confirmed as much, openly admitting that this so-called ‘peace plan’ is addressed to the Russians rather than to the Syrian government and to President Assad.  The BBC reports Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir confirming “the plan would test Mr Assad’s allies” (i.e. the Russians) though he admitted that

“…..he was not optimistic that Russia and Iran were prepared to put the “necessary pressure” on the president (ie. Assad) “in order to comply with the will of the international community””.

The Russians have consistently said that they will not engage in a procedure whose purpose is to effect regime change in Syria.  Since there is no reason to think they will change their position, the prospects of this ‘peace plan’ are zero.

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