Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Debate

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The Joint Committee met at 14:30


Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne Deputy Eric Byrne, Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Senator Mark Daly,
Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Deputy Seán Crowe, Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins Senator Michael Mullins,
Information on Dan Neville Zoom on Dan Neville Deputy Dan Neville, Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Senator David Norris,
Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh Senator Jim Walsh.
Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith Deputy Brendan Smith,  

Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan DEPUTY BERNARD J. DURKAN IN THE CHAIR.

Business of Joint Committee

Vice Chairman: Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan As we have a quorum the meeting is in public session. I ask Members to switch off their mobile telephones, otherwise the bleeps will be recorded and broadcast to the nation. I know everybody would be anxious to hear the telephones ringing but please wait until after the meeting if possible. Apologies have been received from Deputy Pat Breen and Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

The draft minutes of the meeting of 9 April 2014 have been circulated. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed.

Situation in Syria: Dr. Thomas Pierret

Vice Chairman: Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan On behalf of the joint committee I extend a warm welcome to Dr. Thomas Pierret and thank him for appearing before the committee. For many years the members of the committee have observed the situation in Syria as it has continued to deteriorate. For those watching from a distance it seems the situation there is bad and getting worse than when the conflict began more than three years. Sadly, a settlement does not appear any nearer.

The format of the meeting is an address by Dr. Thomas Pierret followed by a question and answer session from the members. If any clarification is required afterwards we will facilitate that. Without further ado I invite Dr. Thomas Pierret to make his presentation. Usually presentations take 15 minutes or thereabouts.

Dr. Thomas Pierret: I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting me to speak about the Syrian conflict. I will briefly address some key aspects of the conflict through an assessment of the possible scenario and policy options western countries are faced with in their dealings with the Syrian war. I think the dominant position among western governments has been that the solution to the conflict should be a diplomatic one, a political one and, in principle, this is an opinion I support. As I will explain, diplomacy is faced with serious limits and I do not think there are many positive prospects in that respect.

What we witnessed earlier this year was the failure of the Geneva II conference which was supposed to discuss power sharing in Syria, political transition, the establishment of the transitional body, including members of the regime and excluding Bashar al-Assad himself, including the positions that members of the transitional body should enjoy full prerogatives. This transition plan was outlined by the Geneva I communique in June 2012.

It is fair to say that the talks in Geneva II failed for a very simply reason, namely, the Syrian regime refused to speak about power sharing and political transition. Basically it wants to keep Assad in power. What the regime is preparing now is another political transition and, as the committee is aware, that is the re-election of Bashar al-Assad in a no-contest election later this year.

The failure of the Geneva talks has taught us many lessons. I will highlight two important lessons from this failure. It has shown that the core problem in Syria is a domestic one. We often hear that Syria is in a proxy war between regional powers with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other side.

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