The Syria Strategy Project: An attempt to draw a roadmap for a political solution

Syrian and Western experts during the seminar held at the Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington to launch the Syria Strategy Project - March 18, 2024 (Atlantic Council)

Syrian and Western experts during the seminar held at the Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington to launch the Syria Strategy Project - March 18, 2024 (Atlantic Council)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud

Research and civil institutions from Syria and the West launched the Syria Strategy Project, 13 years after the start of the Syrian revolution, a time which lacked a comprehensive political strategy amidst radical transformations in the Syrian file without achieving tangible results on the ground in the political process.

The project brings together the Atlantic Council (AC) in collaboration with the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the European Institute of Peace (EIP), pushed by the Madaniya initiative chaired by Syrian businessman Ayman Asfari, and was launched during a seminar held by the Atlantic Council, on March 18.

The project aims to propose strategies for the United States and its allies and to develop a comprehensive strategy to draft a sustainable path for solving the Syrian crisis, within six working groups over the next 12 months.

Absence of a political solution

The absence of a political strategy specific to Syria led to cooperation with Syrian and Western researchers and policymakers to bridge this gap and form a roadmap based on United Nations Security Council Resolution “2254,” and contribute to launching a political solution led by the Syrians themselves, according to the director of the Madaniya initiative, Ayman Asfari.

Asfari said during the opening speech at the seminar held by the Atlantic Council at its headquarters in the American capital, Washington, that the Syrian crisis continues in the absence of a political solution in Syria, but it is no longer at the forefront.

Asfari believes that it is necessary to develop a strategy not only for the solution but also for accountability, and it should be part of decision-making at both local and global levels.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, clarified that the situation in Syria is catastrophic and complex, and the political situation has reached a deadlock. However, “our position is clear, we will not normalize relations with the Syrian regime, without seeing a real effort towards progress for a solution in the political process in Syria, in addition to the desire to see clear plans for improving the lives of Syrians”.

In her recorded speech, Leaf emphasized that the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, as bombings continue in the northwest and northeast of Syria, and various parties of the controlling forces continue to violate human rights.

The German envoy to Syria, Stefan Schneck, agreed with Barbara Leaf’s statements, expressing his regret for the current situation in Syria and affirming that his country and its allies want to see a democratic transformation in Syria, through a clear political solution.

Schneck explained that the current poor situation does not mean losing hope, because the Syrian regime is not as powerful as it claims to be, according to him.

To increase engagement with the Syrian file

The strategy will primarily be presented to US agencies working on Syrian affairs and regional and international partners, and its goal is to provide a practical project for the US administration, which leads to increased engagement and interest in the Syrian file, leading to the resolution of the Syrian crisis, according to the director of the Syria Strategy Project, Qutaiba Idlibi.

Qutaiba Idlibi, in a statement to Enab Baladi, indicated that the experts working on the project believe that if there is an American investment in a plan for a solution in Syria, it will prompt international, regional, and Syrian interaction with the plan.

The goal of reaching a comprehensive strategy means dealing with all the Syrian problems that have arisen over the past 13 years in various Syrian files while ensuring that these solutions are worked on within a comprehensive strategy, in addition to drawing a larger plan for implementing the solution in Syria according to UN Resolution “2254,” according to the director of the Syria Strategy Project, Qutaiba Idlibi.

The strategy includes six specialized working groups: protection, economic recovery, governance, humanitarian aid, the political process, accountability and security sector reform, according to what was announced on the Atlantic Council website.

The director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Ammar Kahf, a senior member of the project’s advisory group, explained to Enab Baladi that, as he understands the goal of the project, it works to develop a strategy for the US policy towards the Syrian issue, which serves the American decision-maker to have a clearer roadmap based on real data and facts on the ground, meaning a comprehensive review of the American perception towards the Syrian issue.

According to Kahf, it is the duty of all experts to push the US administration to adjust, improve, and develop its determinants, positions, and movements within a more comprehensive framework, which is why six areas of work were proposed to be dealt with more effectively, as they are entry points for moving the Syrian file.

Ensuring the delivery of the Syrian voice

The executive director of the Madaniya initiative, Sawsan Abou Zainedin, said to Enab Baladi that the Syrians are aware that the Syrian conflict has turned into a long-term crisis, especially after increasing humanitarian concerns related to human rights in light of the stagnation of the political process.

Abou Zainedin continued that Madaniya recognizes the vacuum of tangible strategies for formulating and implementing a principled political solution which is still out of reach. Therefore, the partners will start an intensive process with technical experts and decision-makers in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East to formulate a comprehensive strategy for a sustainable solution to the Syrian crisis. It will also include Syrian experts, civil society, and stakeholders at every stage.

The Madaniya initiative pledges, according to Abou Zainedin, to support the involvement of Syrians in the ongoing dialogues within the framework of the Syria Strategy Project through two methods, either directly or through cross-cutting projects, ensuring that civil society reaches the outcomes of the dialogue at every stage.

Regarding the guarantee of getting the voices of those most affected by the conflict to be heard, she said that the proposals and experiences of the Syrians will be recognized and considered at the forefront of the discussions.

What are the guarantees?

Both Ammar Kahf, a senior member of the project’s advisory group, and Bassam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the security sector and institutional reform group, agreed on the absence of confirmed guarantees for implementing the strategy.

Kahf pointed out that the strategy differs from previous initiatives because it is based on involving a variety of primarily Syrian and American expertise from decision-makers, including former members of Congress and consultants to ministers, which makes the likelihood of its implementation more from an American perspective.

For his part, Bassam al-Ahmad, director of the Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization and a senior member of the security sector and institutional reform group, sees that in a conflict like Syria involving several local and external parties, guarantees become more effective if the feasibility of implementation on the ground is considered during the writing of each stage of the strategy.

Al-Ahmad explained to Enab Baladi that the interventions in Syria have become terrifying, and implementing a strategy for Syria and for the benefit of Syrians, not the opposite, without opposing neighboring countries and regional states, is one of the major challenges in preparing the project.

The political solution is linked to accountability

The experts involved in the project discussed the connection between punishment, accountability, and achieving justice. Ethan Goldrich, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said, “There can be no lasting political solution in Syria without accountability and justice for the atrocities and violations committed against the Syrians,” pointing to his belief that the Syrian regime is “playing for time, rather than actively engaging to try to solve problems”.

The French special envoy to Syria, Brigitte Curmi, from her side, pointed out that after 13 years of war in Syria, it can be said that now is the appropriate time to change policy. While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, the political process has reached a dead end.

Curmi explained that the French told the countries that normalized with the Syrian regime that moving towards Damascus unconditionally will not yield results, but they did not ask them to avoid normalization because they are not in a position to do so.

Curmi called for renewed international engagement regarding Syria based on UN Resolution “2254,” clarifying that normalization with the Syrian regime without conditions is not an option, and it will not be victorious without concessions.

On December 18, 2015, UN Security Council Resolution “2254” for Syria, consisting of 16 clauses, outlined a roadmap for the political transition in Syria, according to specified mechanisms and a defined timeline, a matter that has not been implemented to date.

Its main clauses included a permanent ceasefire through the efforts of countries influencing the Syrian regime and the opposition within a specific implementation plan for a peace process based on political foundations, including the formation of an inclusive transitional governing body within six months. The resolution also included confidence-building measures between the conflicting parties, such as opening humanitarian corridors, allowing humanitarian organizations to access all areas of Syria quickly and safely, and releasing arbitrarily held detainees, especially women and children.


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