DAMASCUS/NEW YORK/BERLIN (Own report) – A German government advisor has been given a leading function in future negotiations to end the war in Syria. Volker Perthes, Director of the Chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), will head one of the “working groups” recently created by Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League’s Special Envoy to Syria, to create a framework for concrete talks between Syria’s government and opposition. Perthes, one of the most experienced German experts on the Middle East, attributes to Germany and the EU “primary governance responsibility” for those regions bordering on Europe in North Africa as well as the Middle East. He is supportive of possibly sending a “peacekeeping” military mission to Syria – even with German Bundeswehr participation. The SWP, under his direction, is researching the current “fragmentation of Syria” and the “development of political options” for that devastated country. Three years ago, the institute was still engaged – under the title, “The Day After” – in planning Syria’s reorganization with the Syrian opposition, in the aftermath of what, at the time was considered the eminent overthrow of Syria’s President Assad.
Period of Grace for Assad
The new negotiations, carried out in the wings of the UN General Assembly in New York, on a breakthrough in the war in Syria, have led to de Mistura forming “working groups.” Following extensive preparations and at Russia’s insistence, the West is now showing an inclination to cease its one-sided insistence on the overthrow of the Assad government, and reach an alignment of interests by supporting negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition. According to what has been heard from Teheran, the planned deal would include Assad’s leaving power following a period of grace. “At the moment,” the Syrian government should “not be weakened,” Iran’s President, Hassan Rohani is quoted to have said, as soon as the immediate threat by the jihadist terrorists is alleviated, “we can immediately pursue the reforms needed in Syria.” In its statements, Berlin has furnished other indications. Already last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed that negotiations must include even Assad. Yesterday, Monday, German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen agreed, however, adding the stipulation, “Assad cannot be an element of a long-term solution.”
Germany is the only major western nation, which has been able to place an influential government advisor – Perthes – in a prominent position in the UN’s “working groups.” Since 2005, Perthes, a well-known expert on the Middle East, has directed the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, a think tank financed by the Chancellery. In February, during the discussion on the Bundeswehr’s new “White Paper,” Perthes, in his capacity as SWP Director, contributed also his views on Germany’s political place in the world. According to Perthes, Germany is a “responsible middle power,” which “in conjunction with others, maintains and develops European and global governance.” The “radius,” “in which Germany and Europe carry the primary responsibility for governance” stretches across “Europe, itself,” “but of course also [to] the neighboring countries at the eastern and southern vicinity – in Africa and the Middle East.” These remarks reflect recommendations of a strategy paper, which was prepared two years ago, under the auspices of the SWP and the German Marshall Fund of the United States with the participation of some 50 specialists from the German establishment. The paper recommends that German foreign and security policy “will have to concentrate primarily on the increasingly unstable European vicinity, from Northern Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia, not least to relieve Germany’s U.S. allies in NATO, as the United States increasingly focuses on Asia.” Current German activities, regarding Syria, reflect these concepts.
SWP director, Perthes, who heads the “Working Group – Military, Security and Counter Terrorism,” within the framework of UN-sponsored negotiations between Damascus and the Syrian opposition, supports deployment of the Bundeswehr in Syria. “Even a cease-fire, or a transitional agreement between the current government and the opposition” would “not eliminate fear and distrust,” according to Perthes. “Provocations and set-backs are hardly avoidable. Much would speak in favor of an international peacekeeping mission.” The SWP director warns, “Germany should not stay on the sidelines, when the United Nations begins looking for troop contingents.” Besides, the war will continue, even if the government and the opposition reach an agreement. “The problem will be to push IS back – politically and militarily. Syria will not be able to do either without international help.” A deployment of the Bundeswehr in Syria would correspond to the German establishment’s plans to show more presence in the “European vicinity, from Northern Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia,” – both politically and militarily.