Jimmy Carter: A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis
By Jimmy Carter
October 26, 2015
Clearing House" - "NYT"
I HAVE known Bashar al-Assad, the president
of Syria, since he was a college student in London, and have spent
many hours negotiating with him since he has been in office. This
has often been at the request of the United States government during
those many times when our ambassadors have been withdrawn from
Damascus because of diplomatic disputes.
Bashar and his father, Hafez, had a policy of not speaking to anyone
at the American Embassy during those periods of estrangement, but
they would talk to me. I noticed that Bashar never referred to a
subordinate for advice or information. His most persistent
characteristic was stubbornness; it was almost psychologically
impossible for him to change his mind — and certainly not when under
Before the revolution began in March 2011, Syria set a good example
of harmonious relations among its many different ethnic and
religious groups, including Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and
Assyrians who were Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Alawites and Shiites.
The Assad family had ruled the country since 1970, and was very
proud of this relative harmony among these diverse groups.
When protesters in Syria demanded long overdue reforms in the
political system, President Assad saw this as an illegal
revolutionary effort to overthrow his “legitimate” regime and
erroneously decided to stamp it out by using unnecessary force.
Because of many complex reasons, he was supported by his military
forces, most Christians, Jews, Shiite Muslims, Alawites and others
who feared a takeover by radical Sunni Muslims. The prospect for his
overthrow was remote.
The Carter Center had been deeply involved in Syria since the early
1980s, and we shared our insights with top officials in Washington,
seeking to preserve an opportunity for a political solution to the
rapidly growing conflict. Despite our persistent but confidential
protests, the early American position was that the first step in
resolving the dispute had to be the removal of Mr. Assad from
office. Those who knew him saw this as a fruitless demand, but it
has been maintained for more than four years. In effect, our
prerequisite for peace efforts has been an impossibility.
Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, and Lakhdar
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, tried to end the
conflict as special representatives of the United Nations, but
abandoned the effort as fruitless because of incompatibilities among
America, Russia and other nations regarding the status of Mr. Assad
during a peace process.
In May 2015, a group of global leaders known as the Elders visited
Moscow, where we had detailed discussions with the American
ambassador, former President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, former Prime
Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and
representatives of international think tanks, including the Moscow
branch of the Carnegie Center.
They pointed out the longstanding partnership between Russia and the
Assad regime and the great threat of the Islamic State to Russia,
where an estimated 14 percent of its population are Sunni Muslims.
Later, I questioned President Putin about his support for Mr. Assad,
and about his two sessions that year with representatives of
factions from Syria. He replied that little progress had been made,
and he thought that the only real chance of ending the conflict was
for the United States and Russia to be joined by Iran, Turkey and
Saudi Arabia in preparing a comprehensive peace proposal. He
believed that all factions in Syria, except the Islamic State, would
accept almost any plan endorsed strongly by these five, with Iran
and Russia supporting Mr. Assad and the other three backing the
opposition. With his approval, I relayed this suggestion to
For the past three years, the Carter Center has been working with
Syrians across political divides, armed opposition group leaders and
diplomats from the United Nations and Europe to find a political
path for ending the conflict. This effort has been based on
data-driven research about the Syrian catastrophe that the center
has conducted, which reveals the location of different factions and
clearly shows that neither side in Syria can prevail militarily.
The recent decision by Russia to support the Assad regime with
airstrikes and other military forces has intensified the fighting,
raised the level of armaments and may increase the flow of refugees
to neighboring countries and Europe. At the same time, it has helped
to clarify the choice between a political process in which the Assad
regime assumes a role and more war in which the Islamic State
becomes an even greater threat to world peace. With these clear
alternatives, the five nations mentioned above could formulate a
unanimous proposal. Unfortunately, differences among them persist.
Iran outlined a general four-point sequence several months ago,
consisting of a cease-fire, formation of a unity government,
constitutional reforms and elections. Working through the United
Nations Security Council and utilizing a five-nation proposal, some
mechanism could be found to implement these goals.
The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. Mr. Assad’s only
concession in four years of war was giving up chemical weapons, and
he did so only under pressure from Russia and Iran. Similarly, he
will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West,
but is likely to do so if urged by his allies.
Mr. Assad’s governing authority could then be ended in an orderly
process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a
concerted effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the
The needed concessions are not from the combatants in Syria, but
from the proud nations that claim to want peace but refuse to
cooperate with one another.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the founder of the Carter
Center and the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
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