The millions of television viewers who witnessed the impressive opening of Geneva-2 in the Swiss town of Montreux on Jan. 22, a conference billed as the ultimate diplomatic platform for bringing peace to Syria, were given no hint that it was a put-up job. Meanwhile, Thursday, the conference broke up in disarray.
They saw the world’s top diplomats, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rubbing shoulders at this major event with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallam, and in deep conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as some 30 foreign ministers were milling about under the cameras.
In fact, DEBKA Weekly's sources reveal, they were acting out their parts in a Bolshoi-scale production staged inimitably by Moscow as an exercise in misdirection.
The real action had moved secretly to an alternative venue. A senior intelligence official was shocked by disbelief into wondering how Kerry and Lavrov could have agreed to be part of a public piece of deception on this scale. He called it "the biggest diplomatic fraud in a decade."
On Jan. 21, debkafile disclosed that an Iranian delegation had secretly arrived in Switzerland for the conference, although Ban Ki-moon had cancelled his invitation to Tehran at Washington’s insistence. The delegation put up at a hotel far from the conference venue to avoid attracting attention.
This story was not picked up by any world media. All they covered were the opening session in Montreux, interviews with delegates, especially the Syrian opposition, and reports by the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on his daily shuttle between the Syrian government and opposition delegations, who were persuaded to sit in the same room, but not to talk.
Oddly enough, the august gathering of foreign ministers never seemed to hold any full-dress sessions.
Iran admitted through the back-door for a decisive role
Brahimi and the two Syrian delegations knew they were acting out a charade.
The real deliberations had moved in secret to the Swiss capital Bern. There a different panel got down to the real nitty gritty of the Syrian dispute. Representation there was whittled down sharply to senior US, Russian, Iranian, Syrian government and Syrian opposition representatives, whose identity was kept under close wraps, along with the existence of this alternative forum.
DEBKA Weekly's intelligence sources were able nonetheless to penetrate the information blackout and discovered the identities of the two Syrian delegation leaders:
The government team is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad.
Every so often Makdad returns to Geneva for a few hours and talks to journalists, so that his absence remains unnoticed.
The Syrian opposition delegation is headed by one of Assad's oldest rivals, Michel Kilo.
By the ruse of splitting the conference into the public Geneva-2 and secret Bern-1, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov have achieved several goals:
1. The UN and Secretary Ban Ki-moon were detached from the bargaining over a ceasefire in Syria.
2. Britain, France and Germany Washington and Moscow are also removed from essential policy-making for Syria’s future, although they are still in the room for the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
3. Uninvited too were Mid East Arab teams: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE.
4. Iran arrived through the back door to a seat alongside Washington and Moscow at the top table for decision-makers.
Tehran holds the keys in Damascus to peace and war
The Iranians were given full honors in Bern when the two superpowers saw they would never resolve the Syrian conflict without Tehran’s cooperation in two areas:
a) Only the Iranians have direct access through Al Qods Brigades Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani to President Bashar Assad’s inner circle of generals in Damascus. This circle is headed by Assad's most trusted general, his younger brother, Maher al-Assad, who commands the Syrian Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division.
It has become clear to the Americans and Russians that this inner circle is the only address in Damascus today for important decisions. Assad is almost a hostage in his palace. Access to that circle of generals is available only through Soleimani. This puts Iran in the driver’s seat in Bern.
b). Tehran’s second high military card is Hizballah, which defers to no one else. It is entirely up to Iran to decide whether all or part of these Shiite fighters withdraws from the Syrian battlefield and returns home to Lebanon. Since Hizballah’s role has become pivotal to the Syria army’s performance in key sectors of the war, Tehran possesses more leverage than any other foreign power over Assad and his inner circle.
Finding a contender for Assad’s run for president
DEBKA Weekly's sources say that it was at the initiative of Washington and Moscow that Iran persuaded Assad to run for another term as president in the June election, the first vote set to take place under the new constitution approved by national referendum on Feb. 26, 2012, in the middle of the civil war.
Two years ago, Assad never imagined that the constitution he wrote himself would serve the US and Russia as their main tool of diplomacy for his country’s future.
This constitution prohibits a once-man race for the presidency. There must be at least two contenders for the election to be legal.
Assad and his generals much prefer to choose the second contender to make sure he poses no challenge to Assad’s return to the office of president. But the US, Russian and Iranian negotiators at Bern are haggling intensely over a contender on whom they can all agree. They haven’t hit on one yet.