5 min read  | Damascus, Homs, Interviews, Politics

‘We are not counting on Geneva, but we must be there’


January 28, 2014

012714GhassanCaconiAM-2January 27, 2014

Syrian National Coalition (SNC) spokesman Louay Safi announced at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday where the Geneva II negotiations are taking place that a tentative verbal agreement to allow women and children to evacuate besieged Old Homs had fallen apart after Syria’s government insisted it would allow no humanitarian aid convoy to enter the city.

As the United States Department of State slams the Syrian regime for the “preposterous” narrative that it is assisting civilians, the failure to reach a deal on what was seemingly the most clear-cut issue on the negotiating table cast doubts on whether the long-awaited Geneva II talks would leave any tangible results.

As the deal fell apart Monday, Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri spoke with Ghassan Cacouni, a member of the SNC’s Syrian Democratic Union, a small bloc which voted “yes” to attending the Geneva II conference in the SNC’s contentious pre-conference vote.  The group, led by well-known pre-conflict dissident Michel Kilo, calls for a secular, civil state and holds 8 of 119 seats in the Coalition.

Cacouni, a former translator at the United Nations barred from traveling by the regime for ten years as a result of his political activism, told al-Masri why the SNC agreed to attend the conference, despites the conviction that nothing will come of it.

Q: What was the Syrian Democratic Union’s vision and view toward Geneva II?

We all agree, with absolute conviction, that there must be a political solution, as there is no way there will be a military victory for either of the two parties. The regime cannot [achieve] military victory because of many factors, so there must be a political solution.

The media has spoken a lot about root causes; they are the lack of trust between the nations who claim to support the Syrian people or which have friendships with the Syria people.

Q:  The ‘Friends of Syria’ nations?

These nations have not presented the minimum of what they have promised, there was a case of betrayal. The Syrian regime has controlled the necks of the Syrian people since it came to power in 1963. I say that the revolution did not begin in 2011, it began building on June 8, 1963.

This accumulation led to what occurred in spring 2011, a natural thing. The laws of nature say that quantitative accumulation leads to a qualitative, surprise change.

Q: You spoke about the political solution being the only solution. Is Geneva II an appropriate way forward?

Geneva I, or what was called at the time the Kofi Annan Initiative, those items are the basis for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

On this basis, the parties were invited to find a solution, despite the passage of a full year before Geneva II. So [the conference] should work on the application of these aspects, even if it does completely meet the desires of the Syrian people.

Q: I think during the first day of the Geneva I conference, we had a clear vision that we were heading toward Geneva II. From what you have seen what do you expect from Geneva II?

We are not counting on Geneva, but we must be there. We don’t expect a lot from it, except in one case, which is if the [international] nations commit themselves to compelling the regime to apply Geneva I. But of course [if that occurs], there will be a solution to the crisis.

Q: But Walid al-Moallem was clear in his statement that no one will impose anything on the Syrian regime.

There is a state of confusion [within the regime], and I’m closely watching the channels and analysis on the regime networks. The regime feels that there could be a time when it will be forced to apply the conditions of Geneva.

To be precise, 55,000 photos of 11,000 tortured and killed detainees did not come from nothing. It was not a surprise, and legal, truthful overseers proved that they [the photos] were from Syrian prisons.

These papers are very important, and could be a signal attracting international courts’ attention to the regime. There are human rights organizations able to, without resorting to the [U.N.] Security Council, pull the rug out from under the regime and take it to an international felony tribunal at The Hague.

Q: Suppose that Geneva does not bring a political solution. Do you believe that the Coalition can, at a minimum, create cease-fires or allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Homs?

Personally, I reject partial solutions. These are the constants and terms of Geneva I. It is no more than a goodwill gesture, the intentions to treat the humanitarian situation in Homs. Geneva I was a project to develop a mechanism to build a complete solution to the situation in Syria. But it will not reach the level of Syrians’ ambitions, and not what the detainees have presented with their blood.

Q: What’s the alternative?

Even if the regime signed Geneva I, it could take a long time. It won’t be a magic wand.

As usual, the regime is saying, “we will drown you in details.”

Q: If a ceasefire were implemented, do you think the regime would abide by it?

A: They won’t abide by it, they’ll use the pretext of terrorism. The regime tried to shift the trajectory of Geneva using the international momentum around fighting terrorism. The regime today is talking up its efforts in Homs and how it will allow humanitarian aid to enter and citizens to leave. It’s an effort to empty the city, but we know how valuable Homs is in central Syria.

Q: The Kurds in northern Syria announced an autonomous zone last Tuesday; do you think federalism is a solution for Syria, given the country’s religious and ethnic diversity?

No, but if there was a free, popular decision put to a referendum by all of the Syrian people, it’s a possibility. 

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