‘Global balance of power takes shape in Syria’

A Syrian rebel and children stand atop the remains of a tank in front of a bombed-out mosque in the town of Azaz, some 47km north of Aleppo (AFP Photo/Phil Moore)
The Syrian crisis is comparable to the Suez Crisis when a US-USSR standoff marked the demise of the old world, Syria's Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Dr. Qadri Jamil told RT. Today, Russia and China usher a unipolar world to an end.

­RT: Let us start by revisiting your recent news conference in which you assessed the basic principles that must be observed for any kind of dialogue to be possible in Syria. You named two principles: ending hostilities and refraining from foreign interference. Is there anything else?

Dr. Qadri Jamil: No. There are only these two principles, which should be enough. If we were to agree on these two principles, all other issues would become technicalities, despite our contradictions, and we would be able to reach an agreement on certain reciprocal concessions.

The guidelines in question include refraining from foreign interference in any form, which means the Syrian people should be allowed to decide their fate by themselves. It is, in fact, a longstanding principle of international relations that’s being violated right now.

The second principle requires giving up violence in any of its forms. If we look at the issues that lie at the core of contention in Syria, we’ll see that it’s something that simply cannot be resolved through use of force. Instead, the way to deal with them is to sit down at the negotiating table. I should say that pursuing a peaceful solution through dialogue would require the world to show quite a lot of courage by refraining from military action. It might seem that military force can get you farther than anything else; but in reality, we’ve all seen that warfare doesn’t get you anywhere politically.

The situation in Syria is very volatile, and any instance of armed combat will only escalate the hostilities. What we need is a simultaneous ceasefire, which would be in line with the Kofi Annan plan, the Geneva arrangements, the stance of our friends, and the attitude of the Syrian government, which has published a resolution calling for national reconciliation.

RT: How would you respond to people who say they won’t negotiate with a government whose military machine has been razing Syrian cities to the ground? How is that as a pre-condition for dialogue?

QJ: That’s beyond reason. Violence has been employed by each of the warring parties. If we start regarding such statements as a precondition, then dialogue will never take place. Civil wars in Lebanon and Algeria have shown that, sooner or later, warring parties do come to negotiate with each other. So the Syrian people do have a chance.

If only we get down to reconciliation without delay, we might avoid having to pay an immense price for our country’s war-torn economy. Common sense and wisdom call for sitting down at the negotiating table as soon as possible, without imposing any preconditions that will only impede the process. Such demands may be perfectly well-meaning but, at the end of the day, they are misleading and effectively do more to obstruct the peace process rather than encourage it. And anyone who’s impeding dialogue right now should be held responsible for the continuing bloodshed in Syria.

RT: Dr. Qadri, you and [Syrian National Reconciliation Minister] Dr. [Ali] Haidar have been described as prominent personalities with the so-called domestic opposition. Today, you are members of a national reconciliation government. Notwithstanding the escalating violence, would you say that your cooperation with the regime has managed to make a change as far as government policies are concerned?

QJ: First of all, the present government can’t be called a government of reconciliation, as it has a different shape. Still, our joining this government on behalf of the opposition was aimed at unraveling the maze and finding a way to establish a true, national unity government.

We know now that sitting by and expecting such conditions, which will make all the opposition parties join in the national unity government, can cause damage. So, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to make the first step toward forming a coalition government while retaining our opposition views. We joined the government based on a national unity agenda, which was put into practice by a governmental declaration.

The declaration includes two major provisions which are the backbone of the coalition and of the future. The Syrian government relies on the principle of national reconciliation, and its recent declaration upholds this principle as a cornerstone, regarding it as a process that would express the sovereign will of the people and be essential for resolving the crisis. Adopting a roadmap for national reconciliation by a national unity government can be regarded as a victory of the entire Syrian people.

The second provision goes in tune with our principles and was proven by the government declaration. It suggests focusing on the East, and not just in politics, given how the current worldwide situation was affected by Russia and China’s veto, that meant the end of old age and the beginning of a new one.

I mean focusing on the East regarding the economy, fully revising all the economic ties of Syria which have existed throughout the years. The revision of the system is a crucial task. The Syrian crisis gave rise to it, and now the outset of this revision is of great importance and means a lot. This is not a short-term measure; this solution will have a positive impact for the Syrian economy, society and social structure.

RT: You’ve mentioned the cessation of hostilities as one of the key principles, and you reiterated that point at the news conference. However, there is violence employed on both sides of the conflict in Syria, and one of the warring parties is the government, of which you are a minister. Have you tried using your position in the cabinet to promote the notion of ending the violence?

QJ: As far as the cessation of violence is concerned, we should refer to the Geneva Communiqué, which provides for a ceasefire in accordance with the Kofi Annan plan, and requires each party to assign their empowered interlocutors. Syria did appoint its official representative, whereas the other party still hasn’t done so, and I don’t know why. Maybe they have trouble picking the right person for the job. Whatever the reason, dialogue and negotiation cannot happen without each party making their contribution. In our case, one of the parties cannot decide whether it wants to participate, their deadlines change constantly, and the talks are perpetually postponed. It’s high time that we get on with the process of negotiation.

This issue is closely linked to the opposition choosing between options. The opposition is very diverse. One of its more reasonable factions is the National Coordinating Committee, which has made their stance clear: they call for dialogue with no preconditions. We have supported their position, which is indeed similar to our own long-standing perspective. We see that there are points for convergence among Syria’s various political groups, including the opposition, both inside Syria and abroad.

In this regard, there was a very important statement made yesterday by Dr. Haitham, who has gone as far as to suggest handing over to The Hague tribunal the militants who are guilty of killing Syrians. Therefore, I am confident that reality itself urges every sane-minded person to call for dialogue. If we manage to agree on the principles I’ve already named, once we start a dialogue we would be able to address any issue. But we need to refrain from insisting on pre-conditions that are likely to prevent dialogue altogether. We can achieve a lot at the negotiating table, if only we agree on the two fundamental principles for starting a dialogue.

RT: Most observers believe that Syria has become hostage to a global competition for power and influence waged by major global players. Would you say that American presidential candidates, President Obama in particular, have taken advantage of this issue?  

QJ: The Syrian crisis is unfolding at a turning point in history that I like to compare to the Suez Crisis. The US-Soviet standoff marked the demise of the old world, where the UK and France enjoyed hegemony, and the emergence of a new bipolar world. Today, the opposition of Russia and China is what ushers in the end of a unipolar world.

But the new world order is yet to take shape.

Today, international relations are going through a painful metamorphosis. There is a lot of chaos and disagreement, and this brings both positive and negative implications for the Syrian crisis.

The downside to this phenomenon is that the global balance of power is still taking shape. Continued hostilities in Syria are what the US and Europe wants to see. These hostilities follow the familiar Yugoslavia scenario. The bloodshed makes it impossible for various groups to coexist peacefully within the Syrian nation. This is why the current international situation is so dangerous.

However, it also creates a historically-unprecedented opportunity for the Syrian people to untangle a problem built on a long-standing and deep-rooted feud in a totally new way. This is, of course, only possible if there is enough political willpower to do that.

If Syria manages to resolve this crisis, it will, for the first time in history, cast away the all-too-familiar pattern of dividing the state and society along the lines of differences, as was the case in Libya and Iraq – to replace it by a renaissance that will get Syria a place in the sun in the new political and economic environment.