An announcement by Syria’s opposition chief that he is ready to talk to regime officials stems from a belief that the population will be bled dry while the West fails to act, analysts say.
Syrian National Council chief Moaz al-Khatib believes Western backers of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad have not only failed to meet calls for military support, but have also backtracked for fear of the rise of Islamists.
On Wednesday, Khatib said he was “ready for direct discussions with representatives of the Syrian regime,” conditional on the release of “160,000 detainees” and exiles’ passports being renewed in embassies.
Khatib’s group is recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
But his overture may be rejected outright by Damascus, with Assad unlikely to accept his conditions for talks, experts say.
Other opposition members have already rejected the idea outright because it does not stipulate Assad’s fall as a precondition.
“Recently, Khatib has shown he is extremely disappointed with the attitude of states who pretend to support the opposition,” said Thomas Pierret, lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.
“Neither the opposition’s Coalition, nor the (rebel) Free Syrian Army’s joint command has received the support they were promised.
“Given the circumstances, Khatib feels the only way to alleviate the Syrian people’s suffering is to negotiate,” he said.
“At the same time, as a man of principle, he made an offer subject to conditions that are logical but impossible for the regime to accept, so his proposal is doomed to fail.”
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said Khatib “sees Syria is being destroyed and that the military solution alone will not help the people live in freedom.
“Khatib can also see the international community has made many promises and that none have come into fruition. So he is looking for a way to reach a consensus among the people in order to be able to move forward.”
The bulk of the army still supports Assad, said Abdel Rahman.
“It is very easy to sit in a hotel and criticise Khatib when people are being killed and starved,” he said of Khatib’s critics.
To Volker Perthes of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Khatib’s attitude is “simply realistic.”
“If you want to stop the bloodshed, you need a political transition that integrates elements of the current regime.”
Rime Allaf of London’s Chatham House said Khatib’s statement was the result of international pressure to accept a political solution to Syria’s 22-month crisis.
“Khatib is in a very difficult position because the United States, France and other allies are pressuring the opposition, telling them they will not receive any support until they prove they can control the Islamists,” Allaf told AFP.
“After resisting for two years, many Syrians today are tired of war… They feel there may be a window of opportunity to ease the violence somewhat,” she added.
Western countries that have supported the revolt envisage no military intervention despite constant pleas for help, and now insist on a political solution as the only way forward.
“They rely on the population’s exhaustion to try and isolate the Islamists, who believe in fighting to the end. But this approach will not work. (Mainstream) rebels also reject (a political) solution,” Allaf added.
The idea of negotiating would make rebels “wonder what they have fought for through the past 18 months,” she said.
Karim Bitar of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, told AFP Khatib’s proposal will probably fail.
“Khatib seems to have realised a military solution is unlikely at this stage, but he will soon understand a political solution is improbable too.
“To Assad, the opposition is nothing but a collection of foreign puppets, and to the opposition Assad is a bloodthirsty butcher.
“Only a US-Russian agreement can end the deadlock,” Bitar said.