Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper that the Syrian civil war had reached a "stalemate" and it is time for a ceasefire. The civil war, which has lasted for over two years, has claimed the lives of over 100,000 and displaced 6.2 million people. Many in the West have rejoiced at the Deputy P.M.'s proposal, which could pave the way for talks between the opposition at Geneva II.
Jamil also told the Guardian that if the proposals were accepted then a U.N. peacekeeping force could be brought in to monitor the ceasefire. However, Jamil also stated "Let nobody have any fear that the regime in its present form will continue. For all practical purposes the regime in its previous form has ended. In order to realize our progressive reforms we need the West and all those who are involved in Syria to get off out shoulders."
He also denied government involvement in last month's chemical weapons attack. Instead he repeated Russians allegations that the rebels were responsible, because the rockets carrying Sarin were Soviet-made and sold to Libya. Russian sources claim Islamist rebels transferred the weapons to Syria after the fall of Gadhafi.
There are three reasons why the West should be wary of the offers made by the deputy P.M. First of all the offer of a ceasefire was made to an English-language newspaper and not to the Arabic media. What this suggests is that the real aim of this offer is to rehabilitate the regime's image in the west.
Secondly, Jamil's insistence that the regime will stay in power snubs the demands of both the civil and military opposition. This indicates that the aim of the talks is about securing the regime's survival. In his interview to the Guardian he made numerous references to "outside involvement in Syria." But Jamil made no direct reference to the Syrian opposition, and it is not clear if he believes that either the rebels or the civil opposition are Syrians. The Syrian government has insisted that the opposition are not Syrians, but "foreign terrorists."
Finally, Jamil continues to deny regime involvement in the chemical attack on August 21. Because of these three points, the opposition has rejected talks.
Qadri Jamil is an interesting figure and question marks have been raised over whether or not he speaks for the regime. Jamil was appointed Deputy P.M. last year, but crucially, he is not a member of the ruling Ba'ath party. He is a communist and he was brought into the government as part of President Assad's "reforms," which include involving traditional opposition groups in the government. Jamil has close ties to Moscow and is often referred to as Russia's man in Damascus. Although he insisted that he was speaking for the Syrian government in the Guardian interview, his declaration of a "stalemate" is contrary to the regime's rhetoric over the last few months. But it does closely reflect the Russian government's analysis of the Syrian situation.
Time will tell if this offer is a genuine call for Syrian peace and reconciliation, but the evidence suggests it is now. His audience is clearly the West, and the West must be cautious about this offer.