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New Internationalism Project Director Phyllis Bennis says the U.N. Security Council resolution allows for the participation of all outside supporters of the opposition forces

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. Late last week it was reported that the UN Security Council had unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. According to the New York Times, for the first time since the nearly five year old Syrian civil war began, world powers agreed on Friday at the United Nations Security Council to embrace a plan for a ceasefire and a peace process that holds the distant prospect of ending the conflict. Now joining us to discuss this is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis, who is a fellow and director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. She is of course author of many books, including her forthcoming book, Understanding ISIS and The New Global War on Terror: A Primer. Welcome back to the Real News, Phyllis Bennis. PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you, Jared. BALL: So what do you, how do you take this resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council? Is it a real step towards peace in that region? BENNIS: I think right now, given the depth of the war that has already killed 250,000 people at least, has driven somewhere between 11-12 million people out of their homes, 6 million people out of their country, it’s a little late, way late. And the notion that it somehow is by itself a step towards peace is probably more dramatic than it could be. It is important that the Security Council has taken a position. Whether this is going to stand as the basis for new talks remains very uncertain. There are some concessions that have been made on all sides. The U.S. has conceded that the constant call that Assad must go, the call for regime change, is not in the language here. There is no reference to whether, for example, the current president could run [inaud.]. On the other hand, there is no guarantee, as the Russians had wanted early on. They’ve given that up for the recognition of the legitimacy of the Assad regime. So there’s been some concessions on both sides. One of the big questions, of course, is going to be on the very tricky issue of how is it to be decided who participates in these talks? The initial talks will not include Syria, which of course means it’s a very limited game. It is involving the sponsors, those who provide the money, the arms, the political support, the military support, the bombing support, et cetera, of the various sides in the multifaceted civil war in Syria. But in this context there are very different definitions, for example, between the United States and Russia, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between all kinds of people and governments in the region who are involved here in determining who are the, quote, terrorist forces who will be excluded. The idea is that this will quickly move to include all relevant Syrian actors. Government, non-governmental, armed opposition, unarmed opposition, et cetera. But with the exclusion of those deemed terrorists. Now, probably everybody involved will agree that ISIS is a terrorist organization that should not be included. Probably, although it’s not at all clear. The al-Nusra front, which is the Syrian edition, if you will, of al-Qaeda, maybe will be on that list of terrorist organizations. But there are a host of other organizations, including several coalitions that include forces very close to al-Nusra, some of which overlap with al-Nusra. So determining exactly who is going to have the right to sit at the table is going to be very, very difficult and could lead to a collapse of this effort. Having said that, it’s important that some kind of step be taken. The current situation is absolutely horrific for ordinary Syrians who are paying the price for all of these outside actors. From Saudi Arabia and Turkey and Jordan and the UAE and the United States to Iran and Iraq, and Russia, all of whom are fighting, to the last Syrian, among themselves. So this is something that was desperately needed. It’s very late. Whether it will be enough remains very uncertain. BALL: Now, Phyllis, you did mention that Syrians are themselves not involved in this discussion. I’m wondering how best you assess how Syrians or different aspects of the Syrian population feels about these, these discussions at this Security Council, and what many of them would like to see happen. BENNIS: Yeah. I mean, the Syrian population is completely divided. That’s a part of the problem here. What they share, I think, is a desperation at the conditions in which they’re living. Massive bombing attacks by the regime. Massive bombing attacks by Russia. Massive bombing attacks by the United States. All of these attacks, with various degrees of intentionality, are killing civilians. So that’s what Syrians share. That’s what Syrians are all living under, those who have not been forced into exile already. So I’m sure that one, they want that to stop. They want the war to stop. Among the opposition forces, there are differences. Some are willing to negotiate with elements of the regime, but perhaps not the president and his immediate advisors. Others say that they will not negotiate with anyone representing any part of the current government. The government officials are maybe prepared, under enough pressure from Russia and Iran to negotiate with some elements of the opposition. But perhaps not all of those who many others would consider legitimate parts of the opposition. So it’s–can’t really say at this point what the Syrian people want. The Syrian people are divided. It’s a government that doesn’t represent very much anymore of the Syrian people. But we can’t deny that they still have some supporters in some communities in and around Damascus and elsewhere. The opposition is completely divided. The effort that began last weekend by Saudi Arabia to supposedly unite the opposition was a farce from the beginning, because it was already designed to exclude those parts of the opposition that Saudi doesn’t like. It excluded, for example, others as well. It excluded the Kurdish forces in Syria who have been probably the most effective fighters against both the regime, and on a few occasions, primarily the most effective fighters against ISIS, who are backed by the United States, but who Turkey will not deal with. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want them there because their alliance with Turkey around this is quite strong. And for Turkey their involvement in Syria right now is as much about preventing a Kurdish victory as it is about anything else. So the exclusion of the Kurds that have played the dominant role in protecting other, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish forces in Syria, sort of shows the lunacy of this idea that Saudi Arabia is somehow, one of the most sectarian forces involved, that they are somehow going to be in the right position to decide who is part of the legitimate opposition or not. So things are very, very messy when you try to assess who’s who in Syria. BALL: Well, Phyllis Bennis, thank you again for joining us here at the Real News Network. BENNIS: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. BALL: And thank you for joining us. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore, saying as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.