Opening Remarks for
External Actors in Syria II:
Assessing the Influence and Interests of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
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Maison du Futur and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Lancaster Plaza, Beirut
29 November 2017
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends:
On behalf of Maison du Futur (MdF), I would like to welcome you all and thank you for participating in these proceedings, which will examine the roles of external actors in Syria, with special focus on Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel.
In light of the principles, perspectives, and concerns we share, it is always a special pleasure when MdF has the opportunity to cooperate with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), and in a moment we will hear from our distinguished colleague Mr. Nils Wörmer, head of the KAS office for Syria and Iraq.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the tragedy of Syria—which is really the world’s tragedy—is that the country has been, in profound and perhaps irreversible ways, dismantled.
This dismantling has been caused by—and in turn has accelerated—the extinction of human life, the displacement of populations, the destruction of infrastructure, the wrecking of institutions, and the ruination of that intangible but vital element: a sense national unity.
In short, and as we all understand, the consequences of the wars for Syria are profound for the country itself, for its immediate neighbors, for the Middle East region, and for the wider world.
We have convened in this forum for the purpose of throwing light on the roles of external actors in Syria, and from our vantage point we can say that overall their interventions, infiltrations, and manipulations have intensified the conflict.
Given the nature of international relations with its iron law of raison d’état, it comes as no surprise that external actors would maneuver in Syria in pursuit of their self-defined interests.
The probability of external intervention was transformed into a certainty after the Assad government, facing near certain defeat, invited in the forces of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. The formation of this pro-Assad coalition of interveners all but assured that a counter-coalition opposed to Assad would, in tandem, opt for intervention.
At the present stage in the wars for Syria, a key question is: “Can members of the anti-Assad coalition—namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel—conflate or at least coordinate their efforts in order to ensure that the eventual peace settlement takes their interests into account?”
As the wars for Syria exhaust the protagonists and move into a phase defined by a wind-down in hostilities and an upsurge of diplomacy, we must pose and interrogate vital questions, such as:
• Which diplomatic forums—Geneva, Astana, others—have proven most promising and what past models, such as the Dayton Agreement, might furnish peacemaking insights?
• What would be the consequences of a peace settlement for the stability of Syria’s neighbors?
• How does the international community engineer a reversal of the ethnic cleansing that has taken place within and across Syria’s borders? (This topic was the subject of a recent consultation organized by Maison du Futur.)
• Could a Syria settlement lead to “systemic peacemaking,” meaning a stabilizing balance of power in the Middle East region or, perhaps, creation of a new security architecture or consultative body that could act as a standing mechanism for non-violent conflict resolution?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that our proceedings will be enriched by the distinguished array of speakers that have been convened by KAS and MdF; and I hope that our consultations can in modest but important ways help map out pathways to a better future for Syria and the region.
We must be vigorous in our analysis and bold in our prescriptions, but at the same time we should recognize the historic nature of the challenges that Syria and the region face in grasping for a better, alternative future.
An assessment of the political, economic, strategic, and human dimensions of the wars for Syria leads to the inevitable, and sobering, conclusion that this is the most serious of the wounds currently sapping the health and vitality of the Arab world.
For this reason, we need to be thankful to—and supportive of—the diplomatic negotiations that have been conducted in venues such as Sochi, Russia; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Astana, Kazakhstan; Geneva, Switzerland; and other places.
The urgency of “crisis diplomacy” focused on Syria is nowhere more acutely appreciated than here in Beirut, and in Lebanon generally. This country, as the world knows but sometimes fails to acknowledge, has for years labored under monumental economic, social, and security burdens associated with hosting a massive population of Syrian refugees.
Governments and citizens in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other Arab countries are looking toward the vista of a Syrian settlement because they hope and anticipate that it will initiate a season of diplomacy to supplant the cycle of wars.
A Syrian settlement could and should launch a surge negotiations, peace-building, and peacemaking that will reverberate across the political geography of the region.
Under this—admittedly optimistic—scenario, in the decade ahead and beyond the fate of the Arab world and wider Middle East will be determined more by diplomatic chancelleries, and less by armed forces and secret services.
In the coming consultations we will conduct during this “External Actors in Syria” conference, let us dedicate ourselves to advancing prospects for the track of diplomacy and peace, which is to say the path of civilization.