U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have both called for urgent peace talks to be scheduled in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution directed at ridding the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons stockpile, but there is no indication that any high-profile rebel groups have signed on to the idea of negotiating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“A political settlement with international backing is the best hope for a stable peace in Syria right now,” said Chris Chivvis, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp., who called Jamil’s statements a “positive sign” for ending the war that has killed 115,000 people in two and a half years.
“But the main question remains whether the increasingly fragmented rebels can be convinced to accept the deal.”
That concern was underlined Thursday by opposition activists, who roundly deny that a peace conference involving prominent opposition leaders is imminent.
They call Jamil a "fake" opposition member and say he has long been co-opted by the regime and disowned by the revolution.
Ali Amin Suwaid, a political officer with the Syrian Revolution General Commission, which works for a “moderate, democratic” Syria, considers Jamil part of the thinly veiled “soft regime,” with no authority to speak for the wider opposition movement.
“No one from the opposition on the ground or outside of Syria who are really not part of the ‘pro-regime opposition’ will accept to participate in the peace conference unless removing Assad is part of the conference,” Suwaid told Al Jazeera. “They will lose their legitimacy the moment they agree to talk to Assad.”
Like many among the opposition, he believes the regime has embraced the talks as a means of postponing decisive action on Syria by the West.
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the mainstream revolution’s political leadership-in-exile, voted on Sunday not to attend Geneva II, the second edition of a June 2012 conference that proved largely inconsequential in establishing a transition government. Kerry has said Geneva II would aim to pick up where its predecessor left off.
“The SNC considers going to Geneva against the fundamental principles established by the SNC,” read a statement from the coalition, which has said it will participate in talks only if Assad’s departure following a transition period is guaranteed.
“Things may change, of course — and we’re not saying he needs to resign before we go — but we’re not going to Geneva to shoot the breeze at one more meeting and at the same time lose our credibility,” said George Netto, an SNC member who serves as a liaison between the coalition and the State Department in Washington.
Netto, who said he initially encouraged the SNC to embrace the Geneva II conference, now worries that the coalition is suffering from a credibility crisis and would not be well served by attending.
“Going without a clear agenda to Geneva II, without getting the consensus and the mandate from the actual fighters and activists on the ground, will be like shooting themselves in the foot," he said about the SNC. "They’ll lose whatever credibility they have on the Syrian street.”
Nevertheless, the SNC said it remains committed to a transition government, for which Kerry has reiterated U.S. support in recent statements.
“We believe that President Assad has lost the legitimacy necessary to be a cohesive force that could bring people together,” the secretary of state told Reuters on Monday.
Jamil, a leader of the leftist People’s Will Party, which participated in peaceful anti-regime protests in 2011, has repeatedly condemned international intervention in Syria and even praised Russia for vetoing proposed U.N. sanctions against the regime.
In June 2012, following elections that Jamil himself called “forged and manipulated,” he was appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs. His acceptance of the position, and his appointment to the government’s committee for reforming Syria’s constitution, drew accusations that he had been co-opted into the regime’s political apparatus.
In his Thursday comments, Jamil did not specify which parties from the opposition had signed on to the November conference — or if any even had.