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tv   Hudson Institute Discussion on Syria  CSPAN  October 30, 2018 9:13am-10:46am EDT

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>> yeah. i write in the book that in one of the earlier chapters i said i would -- wouldn't have minded growing up in one house. my mom planted three dogwood trees in the backyard when we were bu were born. we thought it would be where we lived forever in southern indianapolis and then, obviously, god had different plans for our life. i'm very grateful for the amazing opportunities and the privilege that it's been to be in a public family and a sort of a public life. i think that, you know, my parents have shown me how to take it all in stride and how even at times when it's kind of stressful to just be really grateful for all those
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challenges and for how they make us closer as a family. >> watch sunday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern on booktv on c-span 2. next, a look at u.s. policy in syria. other topics include russia and turkey's influence in the region and the need to address human rights abuses. from the hudson institute, this is an hour and a half. good afternoon and welcome to hudson institute. welcome to this debate about next steps for the u.s. strategy in syria. my name is jhonas. i'm a nonresident new fellow here at hudson. i've been working in these topics of syria and what happens next.
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so welcome to our audience. welcome to the viewers out there. we have the pleasure of being covered by c-span today. it's not just our audience here but broader is part of us. i have a stellar panel with me up here to talk about our questions. i have next to me representative for the syrian opposition coalition and a founding member of the syrian women's political movement. you're al i have my colleague mike doran. e he he's a great expert on this and worked inside and outside of the institute. we have georgetown and senior
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fellow on international religious freedom jomana qaddour has joined us. the newly minted u.s. ambassador jeffrey recently laid out u.s. policy to syria with these three elements. first, remaining in syria while enjoying the feat of isis. that's something been the policy for quite awhile. then a real diplomatic push for to fight for the covers and end, the conflict in syria. and then as a third point he makes the removal of all iranian commanding forces.
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which so far seems to be the case. but it's one of the things we also discuss up here on the panel. so, actually, to kick us off on the question of new u.s. strategy, three of us here were assembled back in may on a panel, at that time it was called quality shou called "should i stay or should i go." i would ask my colleague to assess the newer strategy in syria. how much is new and how much it can be implemented quickly, in particular, the element of iranian forces in the country of the u.s. having a much more
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active policy. mike, why don't you take it from here? >> thanks. thank you for coming. i think what we see there in ambassador jeffrey's list of objects objects in the united states is the beginning of a strategy. there's a strategic thinking behind it, i think. i'll lay out what it is. before we do it, it's useful to go back a little bit to kind of historically the obama administration identified defeating isis as the number one priority. in fact, as the only priority. it was sort of counter terrorism, counter terrorism strategy and that lead to several major developments.
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one was we entered into a tactical what was identified at a time as a tactical temporary and transactional relationship which is the most effective fighting force. we didn't want to put our own troops on the ground. president obama didn't want to repeat what he saw as a mistakes of the war in iraq. we locked for a proxy to fight isis for us and found it in the ypg. the temporary transactional and tactical decision had massive strategic implications in the form of a rupture with turkey. the second thing big development that happened is the russians and the iranians made major military movement into syria which the obama administration pretty much turned a blind eye to. and the third development that
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we're aware of is the disintegration of syria. now the trump administration has followed the logic of the obama counter terrorism strategy and pretty much defeated isis. but isis is nearly eliminated. and there's a greater thinking that should have been going on from the beginning but didn't about the political order that they want to see in the end. and they have identified publicly identified eliminating iranian command enforces on the ground in syria. i think there's another sort of unstated goal there, which is a reconciliation with turkey. and exactly how that's going to happen and exactly how that is going to affect the wpg u.s. relationship it's unclear. it's going to be negotiated.
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the other thing which they have stated here is constitutionally reformed in syria. unclear how it's going to happen. clearly the iranians, assad, and russia don't want that to happen. don't the president to happen at all. where i think i see the beginning of the strategy here, and i don't think that i necessarily have a lot of hope in it succeeding, but there's a strategic thought here which is that our presence -- we're not fighting the iran begaians dire but our presence there is putting pressure on them. especially combined with our economic policy. our economic warfare, i guess you can say, against the iranians. it's imposing costs on them. somebody has to pay for all the iranian dominated or iranian led forces on the ground in syria.
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also, there's pressure, i think the administration calculates it puts pressure on the russians and russians would like to wrap this up and get out. where i think the strategy is leading here, it's a russia-based strategy. the idea is to put pressure on the russians and to bring pressure to come to some kind of agreement in syria. i think everyone is aware, though, we got five different militaries in syria. i mean, other than the syrian military. the russian, iranian, turkish, the american, the israeli. each military is there fighting its own specific enemy. they're not all fighting -- they're not working together. they have one enemy they're going after. the united states only has i don't know a thousand troops, i'm guessing. i don't know the exact number.
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that leads to an awareness in washington that we cannot dictate -- we don't have the force on the ground to dictate these specific political outcome. but we can channel things down certain dynamics and put pressure on certain actors. i think the big hope here is what is going to happen is that the pressure on the russians is going to lead to a more cooperative relationship. >> thank you. i'm going to turn to you and ask you about in new york and the whole question of u.s. second part of the strategy.
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there was initially a deadline here halloween deadline of the 31st of october. so the question is, is it mission impossible? and your thoughts from the syrian opposition, as well, of how the negotiations are proceeding. >> thank you for having me. i have to put this back in context that the syrian political process has gone through eight official rounds in geneva plus a ninth in vietnam trying to create some kind of a process that could be stanuated on the ground with the different parties involved. this has faced impasse after impasse after impasse because of the regime and the russians not
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willing to go in any political process and they keep putting obstacles and everything being presented they're like no we can't deal with it. we need to deal with the other thing. and maybe for the people who are following what is happening in geneva, you have seen that come to result the so far. and this is combined with what is happening on the ground. and, of course, when you are taking lead on the ground with the air support from russia and the troops support from iran on the ground, there is very little incentive to come to the negotiations when you have a backer like russia who is sitting at the security counsel blocking every possible resolution that could be taken on syria. so within the whole context they tried hard to create a momentum after a resignation of kofi aman
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and not being able to proceed too much on the process. there was a process that was created that has four components that is getting rid -- or addressing the terrorism issue in syria. addressing constitutional issue. they called it the baskets and elections and the transitional period or transitional process. so the constitutional process that is now being talked about and it seem the like it has taken the lead in all the conversations about syria is one component of the whole political process that we have been calling for and being involved in. and i want to reiterate the syrian coalition with the components and the people that are involved in it, all the different parties in it have come forward always because we do want to move forward with the political process. for us, any progress in the political process is a win for us. it's a win for people who want to create change in syria.
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therefore, we want to discuss the terrorism. yes, we discussed terrorism. none of these can be addressed and resolved on its own unless all the baskets are resolved. meaning there cannot be a progress in one area without being progress on all the areas. within the realm, since the terrorism question has been put aside for now, because that's mostly on the ground and in the hands of the international community. the geneva process is focused on the constitutional committee. and this one, i have to mention from a push by russia, just like russia is leading on the ground, it seems it's leading in the political process. unless russia agrees to any process, the process is not taking place. us wanting to actually be involved in the process, we said, okay bring on what is it you want to do for the constitution? we're ready to participate and
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bring in names and vote through the process. this became problematic that lead to the conference. and they went to sochi. we didn't go. we were not present there because we didn't want to legitimize the process or give them credibility to a process starting in sochi. what happened in the united nations under secretary general have agreed to an outcome that was put forward in sochi that is stated that the process needs to take place in geneva. and there will be a selection of 150 people. 50 from the opposition, 50
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people from the regime. and 50 people selected by the united nations from civil society groups, from other components so that could the process could start. we said the regime gave their names. the regime, again, is saying, well, we can't go forward with this. one of their biggest obstacles this is a syrian process. i don't know if you followed a couple of days ago to damascus where during general assembly a couple of weeks ago this is the syrian process.
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when the process is happening, they're saying that this is one of the obstacles but one of the other obstacles or three other obstacles they're putting forward is that the first they want to have the presidency of the committee. they want to choose or they have the hand in selecting the president. second, they want to have the majority. now the third of being selected, they want to have two-thirds majority of the total so they can have the upper hand. third, they want to have the decision making mechanism to be based on consensus. and this made it somewhat difficult to come to any position, also, on the constitution. the americans have gotten a lot more involved lately and want to push for a political solution considering the attacks on the
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ground. and we were hoping it will be a true push for a political solution forward. so now what is happening is that they gave the deadline of the 31st. the halloween deadline. but that deadline also shifted. it was supposed to accomplish at that deadline? only select the names? to launch? to have the first meeting? what are the mechanisms this committee is going to be based on? all of that has been vague. this deadline is there but we're not sure what it means. when leaves handed over to the next special envoy. or is it a process obstructed continuously by one of the
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parties. one of the suggestions coming from our side is why not start something by having the two parts. meaning the opposition and the regime. we have our names and committee. they have their names and committee. we'll see where it goes from here. >> thank you. suppleme supplement question because michael previously mentioned the u.s. cooperation. one of the big things, i think, is with the whole syrian opposition regime is how they're represented in this.
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i want you to explain a little bit more. >> i would like to address when you say the kurds. the kurds are not one thing. the kurds are different groups with different divisions and different groups that have certain or different agendas and policies on the ground.
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when we are talking about the kurdish question, we need to keep in mind there's no one thing. what we're thinking or what we're doing is that we are part of a syria of the bigger tir territorial integrated syria where we want everybody to have their imto vise and be participating in this. anybody that signed on to this is working them together. so this is the position we have taken. this is how we worked forward to include in the political process and they're included in the political -- constitutional and we're going forward from there.
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>> briefly on the in terms of utilizing congress to achieve some of our goals, obviously congress is very divided on the issue. both in how we want to address isis and how we want to address iran. it's not quite clear yet from the administration if they are willing to expand sort of the use of military force. i think we have about 2200 troops in syria. mostly in northern syria. we have it in the southeast.
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it's been perceived as one place where we both can address isis and address iran at the same time. it's been expanded and it's very small. but neither ambassador jim jeffrey have made it clear that we're going to expand the use of military force. it's yet to be seen and no formal proposal has been given to congress. there are several pieces of legislation important to keep in
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mind. have part of that will have an impact on syria. there's two other pieces of legislation that are quite important. the house resolution 1667 known as the no assistance for assad act. this is a bipartisan act. it's been ongoing for some time. the house was pushing it. it's really meant to sanction for up to five years. it engages in any significant transaction with the regime.
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now they're sending it to the senate to vote on. if it's not done within this particular time period before congress is out of session again it may start all over again. this is something that the administration has been working on. like i said, it's a bipartisan effort. the other one is an iran bill. and so the congressman there along with others in the house have really under this man tate the state department to do any reporting on any group destabilizes at all. first, the goal was here. particularly how to get to hezbollah and -- numerous pieces
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of legislation been attempted to address the two groups in particular. recently the amendment was added by congressman joe wilson from south carolina to also add chart of the afghan and pakistani groups that are fighting alongside iran in syria. this is a legislation to keep in mind and especially these guys are relevant where russia and iran are doing a lot of fighting against isis. and finally there's an idea of authorization of, you know, use of military force. this is a bit of a contentious issue. especially on the democratic side after the president used his authority to hit the assad regime twice after their verified views of the regime and using chemical weapons. so senator tim kaine has been
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holding up the confirmation of david to his position as assistant secretary unfortunately there's receive explanation of the use of force and sort of really trying to put restrict the president from being able to act on his own in the future in the event assad decide to use chemical weapons or anything else that we may need to use our current military there to address iran, you know, in a different capacity. >> using military forces in play in two or three which we're addressing al qaeda. >> sure. >> and for isis it will be a little bit of a stretch more for iran. >> exactly.
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>> let's start with the question of can disasters be averted and for how long? and what it shows about the power play with all of these outside powers and part of this has been sort of russia and turkey now that has been really in the main seat of negotiating this and whether, which i think matters for all of us. whether we'll not see as a military incursion and further flow of reshoe agrees and suffering but also how this will play out in the role of political things. i don't know. that's very much your part of politics. what do you think will come out
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of it? >> that's one of the,s. it's one of the reasons why the administration believes it's posture is putting pressure on the russians. st they want to take it. and this is the last part. it's sticking in their draw. they would like to expand the regime's control over it. it's crucial for them to get the international legitimacy they crave. and they were poised to move against it. and two things happened. one is president trump tweeted not just tweeted but it was signalled in a number of ways but including a presidential tweet where he said that this would be a dangerous and reckless escalation.
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both are threatening to the russians. they have successfully exploited in certain ways the def deterioration. they now have a productive relationship in certain areas where the turks or the turks are part of nato. so going to war or fighting the turks would endanger all of that they're deterred by the fact that the united states can possibly use military force against them. so what we have there is a stalemate at the mom and the russians then negotiating with the turks on some kind of
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interim accommodation. how long that's going to last is anybody's question. willingness to work with the united states on the constitutional process for syria. the russians clearly signal they're going to continue and the regime they're going to continue to obstruct that will lead to unspecified consequences by changes in american policy that will have undesirable consequences for the russians. that's just yet to be specified what that would be. that's the framework in which
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they're thinking about. >> and there's also other issues that are connected to it. one is the last stronghold for the opposition or the rebels who have been opposing assad. when i say sometimes there's an economy being created and the context of the syrian discourse where it is seen as if it's the opposition and then the regime and then you have the international allies. here i don't want to forget about the syrian people. syrian citizens who came out in the revolution demanding freedom, justice, and dignity and demanding for voting for the president they choose and the parliament they choose. what happened is when the regime took over that, tlfsz scores of people who have been pushed to the north. it's not 4 million people.
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it's not portrayed in the media. this is like more than half of it is actually refugees or internally displaced that wiare coming to the north. this is the last hold for them. a lot of displaced that come are part of the rebel groups that have been on the ground. even though there's a lot of military that has been taken away from them. but this is crucial. it's the last area where these people are pushed to. we had the international community waking up again to the crisis by going into war against idlib or the area where you have a huge catastrophe and a huge refugee problem. this is, i think, one of the things that also has made international communities side with turkey trying to find a solution with russia.
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but in reality this is only land territory. even people they have taken the land back and all of those. people still want to have their rights their human rights protected which the regime is not doing. this is a contentious area where the regime actually trying to root up troops to bring to fight alongside them and to take it back they couldn't get the amount of troops they wanted. even within the iranian. one of the things they have done some of the militias they addressed them up in syrian military clothes and gave them
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ids so they could be fighting next to the regime. this has not also helped. they didn't have the amount of people they could have had to carry-on this attack. so there are all of these different elements that have played within the question of where the international community had to come together and find a solution that was not based on military solution which has now created which we considered an opportunity for a real push for a political solution. because this is the crux. this is where it actually pushes the balance to a military solution or to a political solution and we have seen that it's the military push that has the regime used and russia and its allies. what we are seeing now is that there is international community involved specifically with the american involvement that there is a further push that we need to solve this politically. we're hoping this will be actually one of the catalysts that will make geneva process start in sincerity again in the
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near future. >> i'm not a military expert, but it's not clear to me that the regime and its at lies have a military capability to do this without chemical weapons. given the kind of forces they have, and since the trump administration seems to have at least has taken that weapon away from them, it puts them in a difficult position where you can see the possibility of some kind of political negotiations taking place. again, i should stress i have a lot of pessimism about this, but this is why they're thinking
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this. >> there is a small contingency that no one has a solution for. so we have for. we have system ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 rebel forces in idlib. it's not clear how many there are. these are rebel groups that they've collected from all syria and dumped in idlib in one location. there is about, according to some estimates, i think the institute of study, said about 10,000 fighters, 10% are hard-core, foreign, you know, al qaeda members. no one, the united states, russia, no one has -- what we keep hearing is they need to be physically destroyed. no one has a solution for them y yet. another issue is these groups, with iran and isis, they will
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play the role of spoilers in the coming months if there's any kind of traction on the political front. during the u.n. general assembly, there was a meeting of about 20 people and it was said that -- let me find the exact quote -- that the european union, turkey, the u.s. and the syrian opposition seek to, quote, turn a military defeat into a political victory and iran will not let that happen. i think it's important, we're seeing even whether from al qaeda, some sort of one off resurgence, they're trying to attack the coast and continue to try to play spoiler on this. same with isis, obviously. iran and its allies are also going to -- but specifically iran, they really fought hard for this on the battlefield. it's going to be very difficult to get them to agree to many of the terms that ma rewria and mi pointed out. >> maybe we could go back to one
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of the initial questions, saying can you push iranian command and forces? you were saying they fought hard on the ground. it's different from the russians mostly in the air, that they've actually -- they are iranian forces on the ground. is there really sort of a possibility of pushing them out of syria within the foreseeable future? >> well, i want to hear what mike has to say about this. i will say that i think once the sanctions might go to the heart of how iran has been funding a lot of these operations. they're gathering some estimates up to 32,000 shia backed militias from pakistan and lebanon that they've gathered there, they're paying for. i think part of that is trying to see if once these sanctions go back into effect, if they're going to be able to debilitate that. i want to hear what mike has to say about that. >> mike? >> i think it's the weak point,
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the weakest point in the nascent american strategy. it's very striking to me that the americans, first secretary tillerson, but then secretary pompeo, gave a speech in which he had his 12 or 13 points in which he laid out points of contention with iran and one of them was that we want to see the departure of all iranian command of troops from syria. the israelis saying the same thing. the israelis are basically in a war in syria with the iranians. their red lines -- they have several red lines, but they basically add up to the point that they do not want syria to become a base for an iranian military base. it's striking to me that we and our israeli ally and i think we can add our saudi ally, even the
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turks, they're not directly affected by the iranians as the israelis are, but the turks do not like the iranian presence in syria. there's no doubt about that whatsoever. yet, we don't have a coordinated strategy to turn our aspiration, our common aspiration, into a reality. i certainly hope that the sanctions will bite enough so that we see a real change on the ground among the iranians. we don't have that much time. if president trump -- if president trump is defeated in 2020, then we have -- i don't know, what is it, 25 or 26 months, is that right, until that time and the -- clearly the iranian strategy and the strategy of the democrats, or at least the former obama elements in the democratic foreign policy
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establishment and the european union, is to wait out the trump administration and then to go back to the jcpoa and lift the sanctions on the iranianss. the time frame on this potentially and what i would consider personally a worst case scenario is 25, 26 months. i don't know that that's enough time to see this happen. the only power that really has a military strategy against the iranians is the israelis but that is one from the air. this is how both the israelis and the white house, i believe, have latched on to this russia strategy of using russia to put pressure on the iranians to get the iranians out. putin is -- understands this. what he's saying to prime minister netanyahu is hey, look, we have common interests in
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syria and my interests in syria are not identical with the iranians in the long term. in the short term i have a shared interest with them in defeating the opposition to the assad regime but in the long term i don't need syria to be an iranian military base in order to achieve russian interests. work with me and i will be able to work with you to come to an agreement that will be mutually satisfactory. he goes to tehran and says don't do anything to provoke the israelis because the priority is getting assad out. he comes to us and says something similar. the effect of all of that is the gradual rehabilitation of the assad regime which is the primary goal of the russians. when i look at that, i ask myself a simple question, if the
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assad regime is rehabilitated -- they continue to obstruct on the constitutional things, continue to take territory and rehabilitated nationally, once that rehabilitation takes place, how valuable are the russian commitments to oust the iranians that we're getting today. to me it's like the old, you know, the popeye cartoon, wimpy saying i will gladly pay you on tuesday, right. we will make concessions to the russians up front which they will pay for -- pay us back in the long term and in the long term payback is, i fear, is never going to come. >> that leads to -- listening to mike, a really good question, russia has made itself part of the problem in the war. can it in any way be part of the solution? what do you think? >> russia is like just continuing the idea that mike talked about, is that the russians' interest in syria is different from the iranian
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interest. the iranian interest is wedded to the regime. iran and regime are two sides of one coin. the russian element is a little bit different. the russians are using this as a way for them to keep the regime, to keep their interests in the area. what i find from the international community or from the u.s. policy, the idea that they are unable to separate the regime from iran is a problematic issue because now when they're talking about getting iran out and we have assad, like you said, it's not going to work. there is no regime without iran. there is no iran in syria without the regime. that combination of the powers on the ground needs to continue in order to keep this regime intact and that's the only way the russians have -- because they have the air power, i don't know, 5,000 maybe troops on the ground, they don't have the
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capacity to actually keep their interests pro tebtsds on the ground. when we're going to be able to solve this, like the israelis don't mind the assad regime, nobody minds at this point the assad regime staying in power because it has served their interests. >> i imagine you do? >> yeah. protected their interests all of these decades so why would it be an issue for them, aside from -- what's happening, the connone dumb, iran supporting the regime they want to keep. what i would like to see the leadership of the u.s. to actually take up front now, because they're saying there will be no aid going into syria unless the iranians leave, it should be there will be no aid going to the area unless the regime changes where we're trying to create a legitimate government for the syrian people to deliver aid, start reconstruction. keeping assad is keeping iran. there is no -- there is no other
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option for this. the minute iran leaves, assad falls. it's not just the russians. russians is part of the solution and part of the problem at this point. could we work with them? actually, we have. we're willing to work with anybody who is willing to create transition in syria and from what i understand, the opposition pay be going and visiting moscow very soon to talk about idlib and the continuation, not to make it because -- the russians keep saying that is a temporary deal in idlib, that what's happening in the north is something that could erupt and change the strategies on the calculations on the ground, so there is an attempt to talk with them and see how we can keep this holding. >> i could see, mike, you were itching to comment on this? >> i wanted to add a few more -- i want to flag something. i always see it in worse case scenarios. i'm not saying this is necessarily what's going to
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happen, but there's a kind of a contradiction in the american approach. this is from the 30,000 foot level. it has to do with our attitude toward iran and russia and our attitude towards the turks. it is a priority now of the administration to improve relations with the turks. i think the preferred, long-term answer for reconciliation with the turks is a reconstitution of syria so that -- because why? because the turks are afraid what the united states is doing by this alliance is building an independent kurdistan in syria. the united states in the long term wants to reassure the turks it's not doing that. what that means the kurdish regimes have to become part --
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have to once again become part of syria. exactly how that's going to happen is not clear to anybody. there's a desire then on the part of the united states to see the regime in damascus, whatever complexion, retake the control in some way. if the u.s. just picks -- the u.s. also wants to get out of syria. if it just gets up and picks up and leaves tomorrow, then the ypg migrates immediately to the iranians and russians and russia becomes the primary between ankara and the syrian kurds. the united states doesn't want do that, so its answer is, let's make, again -- it doesn't -- what does -- it knows what it wants. an independent kurdistan and doesn't want the kurds to be under the russians. its answer in its mind is we want to expand the control of the central state back to those
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areas. at the same time, it wants to fundamentally change the character of the state which no longer -- it's now dependent entirely on iranian -- on iranian forces, so it can't have both of these states. it can't. it has to make a decision. the worse case scenario in the end it says, well, what can we do about the iranians and we'll -- we'll get some russian commitments that aren't worth very much about controlling the iranians and tell ourselves that that's -- that that's a good thing. that's one point. my second point quickly is just if -- i just think it's interesting, if you would have asked me a year and a half ago which actor, turkey or israel, was going to play its hand better in syria in terms of getting what it wanted from the russians and the iranians and from the united states, i would have said the israelis for sure.
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now it doesn't look like that to me. i don't know that the israelis believe that. we now have the russians on the -- on the israeli border and the israelis are -- on the goal line and the israelis are taking the assurances of the russians there won't be iranians there. i don't believe, as i'm saying, i don't believe those assurances are really very -- are really something that you can bank on and that sooner or later we will have iranians on the -- on the -- on the go line. the turks remained on syrian territory and took the position in idlib which has given them much more leverage over the russians, as we've seen how this has played out, over the russians and the iranianss. it's quite interesting to me the player with the stronger -- it seems to me the stronger diplomatic hand at the moment is the turks. if we had an israeli representative sitting here, he would probably say we have the israeli air force, which is
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proving very effective in syria and that's something that russians have to pay close attention to. >> jomana? >> i want to add asking on the golan heights. last week b.b. netanyahu said the golan will always remain under israeli sovereignty and lavrov responded to him by saying that doing so would be a violation of. announcing that it is part of israel would be a violation of the u.n. security council resolution. it was very interesting to see that sort of tense moment right after this happened and so i don't -- i agree with you that the israeli/russian relationship may prove to be -- it's not stable for sure and it may get worse before it gets any better over the longer term. >> i wanted to try to -- post-reconstruction opposition, which could kick us off, tomorrow a meeting in istanbul where the europeans and merkel
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and macron will show up with the russians, primarily about idlib and sort of continuing how to avoid a sort of humanitarian catastrophe where european leaders are very interested and concerned, of course, also from a self-interest in the sense that a huge refugee flow into europe has happened and also destabilized to a large degree european politics and at least become a huge part of the european political discussion. of course, i imagine russia on the other side would be interested in gaining on behalf of the regime the legitimacy saying now european money should start flowing in to reconstruction and so forth. i don't necessarily think that the -- that either merkel or macron were that gullible and both know that and have said, particularly macron, that's not what's going to happen, but still, this is an interesting sort of evolution where russia will be playing on another front
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and at the same time there is a legitimate question of at some point, hopefully after, that syria also needs syria's reconstruction. mary anne, what's your take on this? >> on the meeting? >> the meeting, yeah. >> the meeting is interesting in one respect in that it involves the russians and turks that this is happening and it does not include the iranians. russia, as we said earlier, russia's interest in syria is different from the interests of iranian regime in the syrian regime and the involvement of merkel and macron in the talks is actually positive for us because it shows that there may be some kind of a breakthrough in the position where they need the international community's support in order to continue
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their legitimate -- being legitimate actors in the international community. it is very well-known fact from our side that there cannot -- the perpetrators themselves who are destroying the country, cannot receive any money or any reconstruction to build what they destroyed. there is no accountability to count on that they're going to rebuild it first of all, that it's not going to be stolen, and even if they rebuild it they could destroy it again because it's not something they are counting on. there is the issue of how much will go to the hard-hit areas and other areas in the areas. the regime is holding about over 60% and then you have the other 40%. how is this going to work? the position so far has been there will be no reconstruction money going in, at no point, until a transition starts taking hold. this is what the russians have
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completely objected and calling for reconstruction and specifically actually to reconstruct in the regime held areas, which are the least destroyed. one of the areas that's completely destroyed is raqqah and i like talking about this, we're in the u.s., u.s. policy, it's the u.s. who has been responsible for the destruction of raqqah in the fight against isis. there are so many questions that will be in this meeting and we're hoping it's going to be something for the syrian people where the reiteration there will be no reconstruction money coming to syria without a transition taking place, will be reiterated from germany, france and turkey to the russians, and the russians start working with them on this and changing their course in how they're working with the iranians and the regime. >> let me ask you to elaborate on that on raqqah because that's -- for a lot of people, the audience and viewers, the fact that there is stabilization money going because it's part of
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the areas controlled by the -- outside regime control because it was taken over in part of the fight against isis, at the same time it was really destroyed and demining, still going on, is really hard, and there's the difficulty, could you move to further stages when there is no political transition, so it will be interesting to hear a little bit about -- >> it's very complicated in raqqah because raqqah is under the control or the work with the americans and the sdf. it makes it very difficult to -- it's not a separate state, it's not an entity that can function outside the whole syrian territory, and the destruction in it is massive. there has to be an agreement with the people of raqqah, the people who are not in control right now, the people who are not there now, to come and see and be part of the reconstruction of this part of syria. i feel or like the stance is that there needs to be a
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reconstruction happening, but again, that is part of the general plan for syria, reconstruction plan for syria, under the leadership and the legitimacy of people who should be part of the governing party in raqqah and actually deciding on how this money should go and how it should be distributed. of course like having been destroyed not by forces aside from the u.s. itself, shows you that it is a complicated issue where they actually need to put their foot on the ground and say this is how we need to make it happen and take leadership over not returning any of the money or giving any money for reconstruction unless it's done through the legitimate representatives on the ground. >> mike, back to the meeting this weekend, are you worried that the europeans will be lured into something by either russia or the turks that are against u.s. interests or how do you see this meeting? >> i'm always worried that the europeans will be lured into these things, but -- >> that's what i knew. that's why.
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>> but no, the position they're taking is a healthy one. i don't have much to add to what was said except that this is, again, one of the -- from the american point of view, the russians are the three rs, the return of the refugees, the rehabilitation of the regime and the reconstruction. they want europe to pay for all the destruction that they've done. the u.s. wants to hold all of that up until we get some kind of commitment to the russians on the things that are -- the things that concern us most, the constitutional question and the iranians -- the iranian presence. i think that should absolutely be an american red line. personally i'm not going to get it, but i would like to see us have, say, hold up all funds until we get a regime that we
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can actually work with and that is not the assad regime. they're calculating -- the united states is calculating that this is putting pressure on the russians because the russians don't have the resources to pay fort reconstruction that they desire. >> jomana, your thoughts and also a little bit maybe longer can this work in the sense is this enough to entice the russians and assad really to change? is he not more happy running a state that isn't reconstructed than actually having to leave and then getting sort of cities and houses rebuilt? >> well, first of all, i don't think there's much we can do to lure assad to concede his power. everything has been tried. he is not going to step down, even if there is money being held over his head. in terms of the reconstruction it's important to remember the world bank is part of this conversation, so outside of governments -- they -- governments do work through the world bank, but there are
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separate discussions happening there about, you know, should we give half to the regime to entice them and half to outside areas as maryanne was saying. people who worked on iraq will tell you -- i've heard from them, the most vocal pushback on this idea that that's exactly how we wasted hundreds of billions of dollars in iraq by rewarding people who helped fuel these wars trying to lure them in for money knowing they were corrupt actors and were never going to make the connections we were looking for over the longer term. in the conversation with the eu, they're so focused on the refugees. the regime does not care about the refugees. it barely even mentions them. i was reading a very interesting article this morning that had done a review of the syrian arab news agency's like reporting, and they said that the word refugee has only been used seven times in the past -- since 2011. they're not really referred to
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at all. most of the people who fled, assad is more than happy not to have them return. this summer i was speaking to some lebanese generals who -- i won't say who they are, they want to remain anonymous -- it was interesting they are being sent into syria so they can facility late the return of the syrian refugees and not only did they come back saying even bugs can't live there, that's how badly damaged they are, but also, they came back having heard reports from the regime that said anyone who didn't leave legally -- in other words that was not stamped on his way out -- cannot enter syria in the -- later on. the regime is doing all it can to also stop this. there was a law recently removed off the books, the law that the assad regime initially said would give a month for refugees or people outside of the country to come back and register their property a lot of pushback, they
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expanded it to a year, and then this past week the russians informed everyone that's going to be removed off the books, that the syrian regime is no longer going to mandate it. we heard that russians basically told the syrian regime you don't need this law to actually do what you want to do inside of syria. you can still take the property of those who have left the country. you don't need anything that legally says this. there's also another interesting law. i think it's the nationality law that's been on the books since 1969 that's rarely invoked, but it basically says anyone who leaves to foreign lands for more than three years without a justifiable reason can have his nationality revoked. this is something people are saying can be conjured up by the syrian regime because they really -- i'm -- demographics are very much in their favor. there's been a lot of talk -- at the commission i worked on
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secretary and demographic, the majority of those who rebelled happened to be from the sunni arab communities because those were largely sideline, marginalized communities in syria before. with that being said, now it's very much also along class and loyalty lines. that is how assad is going to define moving forward, who is allowed to return back to syria and who is not allowed to go back to syria, leaving most of the refugees that initially fled outside of the definition. what europe is seeking to achieve will likely not happen if the assad regime has anything to say about it, and if russia does not force it to comply with these terms which i don't know how -- there's going to be tension on this issue. >> that's -- can i just -- that a is a great point. the russians will dangle before the europeans the possibility in order to get the money flowing. >> that's definitely the case. there will be -- we've seen some
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european cases there's some that evaluate it more positively than the lebanese general in saying conditions are more or less okay now, you can return, because it's, of course, also a sort of domestic hot potato in many european countries. >> can i just say one thing that isn't mentioned, the amount of disease and other kinds of health issues that have already arisen, that will arise from the rubble -- many of these kids are not vaccinated, so the situation that we're sending the refugees back if we were to send them, is also -- it's going to be a different kind -- it might not be a violent massacre in the way we've seen, but it will be very inhumane on a different level. >> may i ask -- >> yeah. >> can i ask what you're -- i'm curious to know what your preferred solution to that would be or at least interim solution? >> unfortunately, i think that there's not going to be a way to
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do this safely if the assad regime has anything to say about it. returning these refugees -- there's no way you can guarantee them, even if we give them the opportunity to vote and express their presence, it's a security state, the most dominant part of the syrian government, and allowing these refugees to go back there -- the assad regime security apparatus -- unless that is addressed, which is completely intertwined with assad's fate -- the security of the refugees cannot be guaranteed. leave aside all of the other -- like i said, the inhuman situation we're sending them back to. >> who you like the international community -- would you like the international community, the turks and lebanese -- >> to keep them there, yeah. i am not advocating for their return that is not willing. there are some families from the jordanians, maybe 100 a day, or what have you, that are returning, trickling back. these are to the people who were fundamentally against assad
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necessarily, but they're a very small number of the number like 7 million people that are outside of the syrian borders that have left only since -- >> i would love to bring you in here, how much is this part of the discussions in the political process of the refugees should come back and be part of a new political life in syria after transition? >> this is part of the discussions that we are also doing actually about the constitutional committee and within also the elections, the political process that's taking place in regards to syria, is that if you are going to have any kind of a legitimate transition, any legitimate political process, you need to have all syrian people involved in a referendum, in elections, and that needs a neutral and safe environment. is there any kind of a safe, neutral environment existent for these people. people are afraid even in refugee camps in jordan and in refugee status or not acknowledged refugees in lebanon, it's the worst place for the refugee right now being in lebanon.
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it is amusing to see the generals that went to damascus and came back to think it's actually really bad, because their situation in lebanon is bad. they don't have bombs falling over their heads, but it's very devastating and very poor and the lebanese government has not sided on the refugee convention so they don't get the kind of provisions and help and rights in other parts of the world. having to conduct any kind of a referendum, having to conduct any kind of elections within these communities is going to be very difficult without creating some kind of a safe space. that safe space in order for it to be legitimate and well, it has to be in syria, through a transition, and even if you're outside, to not be fearing for your life because syrians are still fearing for their lives outside syria that they're going to be attacked or they're going to be -- syrian security will
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come after them. they're so busy in syria, but there has been this assassination outside the syrian territory that has been happening. it's difficult to go back and this is one of our biggest concerns to get the legitimate process going in the political process. >> thanks. i as moderator have the privilege of asking interesting questions and i have more, but i want to bring in the audience. simple rules apply as always, state your name, affiliation, if any, try to make it a question, not a long monologue, because you could have been on the package instead, and with that let me start here. >> wait for the microphone to come and then name and affiliation and question, please. >> hi. my name is [ inaudible ] and i'm the representative of the peoples democratic party to the u.s. from turkey. i want to thank the panel firstly for their remarks. i just had a question for maryanne, when asked about the
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kurd, the initial response was that the kurds are not one, you know, they're divided in different opinions, which is true, but which is also true of the syrian opposition and which in any way does not delegitimize their concerns in syria and shouldn't for the kurds either. in fact, the kurds have proven to be much more internally coherent, both politically and militarily in syria, so my question would be then, without specifying the coherens or the unitf unity of the kurds, what do they propose for the kurds in a future syria? they have legitimate concerns in syria. what would you, as the syrian opposition, say differently to what has happened in syria before, what would your project for the kurds be in syria? >> do you want me to answer that? >> yes. >> thank you for bringing that up. yes, the opposition and syrian
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people and when you're talking about any people, you have a lot of different policies and different opinions and different agendas, and sometimes it's actually influenced by outside forces also because we as a group of people, we always have our affiliations and allies from the outside and inside. the way we see syria or the way i joined or i signed on to a group to work with, is the integrity of the syrian territory, that we are part of one country. yes, i agree with all of the arguments -- i do get sometimes this is actually a created state, it's not even a -- this is a agreement state where you see like the lines of the borders in syria are actually, some of them, pretty quite straight. when going to jordan it's straight. it's a deal made by the colonial powers in creating this syrian structure. this is what exists and we have created a syrian nationality that it says arabic, i would like to see that removed, because syria is very diverse,
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syria has a lot of different groups and religions and ethnicities and it's intertwined. kurds -- sunnis and some other religions, but then the arab sunnis, and the armenians and a lot of different groups that are intermingled. the call in the future is to have an equal citizenship for everyone, and also, rights to the people, to any people, who exist exi exist in syria to have their rights reserved. kurds have been moved from -- this is in mass by the syrian regime, from an area to another area where they could be mixed with the arabs so they are spreading them out so they would not have a specific kurdish area or majority in any one spot in syria. there are these issues that have existed for a long time in the syrian context which needs to be
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addressed. this cannot be addressed unless we all sit down as syrian people. once the killing stops in syria, once the bombardment of the people stops in syria, that we come together when we're doing solutions for syria, when we're going through a transition, where they will be given a representative from the different kurdish parts, representatives from the different sunni parts -- one example i want to bring in now i am part of the founding -- one of the founding members of the syrian women political movement and really loosely we're saying that the syrian women's political movement because we felt that syrian women's rights have not been addressed by the bigger opposition, the general opposition, and syrian women are 50% of the population that their specific needs and concerns and specific ways of knowing and dealing with the legality and reconstruction of syria and the constitutional building of syria needs to be addressed. when we came together, there's a wide range of affiliations that
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we have and that's why it's called movement. there is a common denominator that we have agreed on. we look at each other and we know -- i have very good friends from the movement and we're working together in the future of syria, we're going to be part of different parties, we're going to be calling for the nuances and the changes in the legality that we want to create, what does it specifically -- how we want to be addressed specifically. the sh rhea law, the sec cue hairty, the government we want, the decentralization, there's so many issues that's going to come to governments that is going to relate to also what kind of citizenship we're going to have, that are issues we need to discuss. can i put that right now at the table and discuss it? it could be, but it's very difficult in the state that we are living in now. what i call for all of the different kurdish groups or parties that we're working for, for us to come together to a common denominator, which is we want to keep the happened, the syrian land, one land for now,
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and that we're going to work to give equal citizenship and rights according to all of the different components that the syrian population, the syrian citizenship can have. that is actually something that has been used in a lot of different countries. like you can see that in swits skerland, in canada, different places where specificity of a certain group of people inside a country can be accommodated. i aspire to something like that, but this cannot happen unless we sit down and discuss it and see how we can come to terms in how they will be represented in parliament, in government, on the ground, what are the rights that they need to have, so that they are enriching the syrian culture and existence. my dad is from [ inaudible ] and my mom is from the south from the golan heights so i'm half between the two parts and i would like to see, you know, syria to the golan heightses in
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state and in one territory, one country. >> over here. >> peter humphrey, intelligence analyst and former diplomat. i hate strategic surprise and i'm wondering what happens the day after assad gets the heart attack he so richly deserves, what happens the next day? if i may, the prospect of him remaining in power and we get stuck with that, can we make that contingent on him releasing 12,000 prisoners and let that be a dealbreaker for us? >> take one question in the front as well. >> thank you so much. i'm a representative of syrian democratic counsel to the united states. i would like to thank you for your -- i mean for information.
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i want to ask, i think recently you heard about the coalition that visited maybe two years -- two days ago. they went there to empower the council. do you think it is legitimate council to be there, whereas the people now are in the camps outside and do you think [ inaudible ] about the violation which is happening in ethnic cleansing, demography changing, and even torturing the people in order for them to leave their area? this is one question. another one, you are asking -- talking about the constitution. now the constitution is going to maybe -- they are preparing for it, for the third group of the [ inaudible ] but still, there is a large -- i mean area in the northeast of syria is not
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included in this group, so what do you think about this? do you agree that all the syrian people should be included with a representative in order to have a -- can't say fair or good constitution, when now they are not invited? i would like to ask mr. mike about the strategy of the u.s. what do you think is the strategy for the u.s. to have the balance between the relation with turkey and even [ inaudible ] for the sdf which they pay a lot of prices with their thousands of people dying by liberating the areas of raqqah, from the isis and the terrorists? thank you so much. >> thanks. mike, why don't we start with you. >> okay. in answer to the first question, i expect that the russians and
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the iranians will get together and find somebody from within the assad system to take his place. it's such a family-based system that i think to go outside of it is dangerous. i don't know that we -- i had never thought about what we should do in that situation. with respect to the sdf, we're in a dilemma now because -- and our system is quite divided, i would say. the military on the ground is very committed to the allies they have worked with because they have fought and did defeat isis, but at the political level, you know, in washington, there's a great concern about -- there's an awareness that turkey is not going to go away, that it has vital interests there and a
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long border and it's going to influence this process. they're groping towards finding a middle ground. i think the answer of the administration is the manbige process, we have the joint patrols and creating a local governance and i think the dream is that we'll move the process -- we'll apply it all across the syrian/turkish frontier. whether we'll get to that or not is anyone's guess. i think that's the approach they're going to take. >> maryanne? >> i am with you. i have friends from the area, part of the syrian political movement is one of our members, keeps bringing up the issue. there are gross violations. there is removing and forced displacement of people. not only that, one of the things that i know that's happening and some of the people that are coming from the south are being
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resettled in afraim and the houses are being given for people that -- yeah, see, what's happening in syria, i want to go back to, i don't want to sound like an idealist or don't want to address like the issues specifically, but what i want to say is that the state we are living in now where the violations are conducted with impunity and where a lot of these brigades, rebel groups that are on the ground, don't have an actual control over them, there is so much that is coming from actually a lot of individual violations or group violations without the -- necessarily the blessing or the systemic violations that the regime is creating. this is because of the nature of the chaotic state that has happened in syria and northern
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syria right now. we have been working with the turkish government in trying to create -- i work with a friend who has an organization called dodry, i don't know if you're familiar with it, but we're working with her in trying to find ways to address this issue in a way that is service to the people and the civilians. i want to go back to the issue that the civilians are the least -- considered when it comes to these issues, like the violations against the civilians, are not looked at when we're looking at syria. what we're talking about is actually the military power and this is one of the things that i want to go back to and also talk, is that in syria we don't talk about human rights or violations or international law. we talk about who has land, who has more power, who has more military, who has more fighters. this kind of a discourse for syria needs to change from a discourse of power and who has the military power on the ground, to a discourse of the human rights. who is practicing human rights, who is violating human rights?
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it has to go to a discourse of international law. this cannot happen unless we have a true transition that is taking place in syria. this is what brings me to the next question to the constitutional committee. in the constitutional committee, there are kurds that are -- when i say kurds, i always feel like it's not adequate enough because there isn't -- if we have a few kurdish people with us it doesn't mean it's representing a lot of the syrians -- they say we have two or three women within the opposition, i have to say this, within the 15 names that were given to represent the constitutional committee, it was only 8% women. women represent 50% of society and we got 8% of that constitution. the representation is not going to be accurate. it's going to be skewed about how many representatives are on the ground. this is a work in progress and this is what we need to talk about always, and this is what we need to bring forward and make sure all representatives of
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syria are all of the voices in syria included so we can keep our territory and create a more democratic and adherent to human rights state in the future. >> jomana, do you want to jump in here? it would be sort of concluding words as well. >> i wanted to address the gentleman's question about if assad releases 12,000 prisoners would we be okay with letting him stay in power? i think it's more than 12,000. i'm hearing estimates more -- the number from what i understand is much higher. i hear -- >> [ inaudible ]. >> sure. but there are people that the regime doesn't acknowledge that are still within -- it's confined with the regime. in any case i don't think that's sufficient. i think the detainee issue is one portfolio of many, and i think what maybe we're losing sight of is how weak the state
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will be under assad going forward. it's already only strong enough because of his -- the heavy involvement of his russian and iranian allies. it is not even in our u.s. national interests to allow a state like that to continue to go on indefinitely because we already, as i mentioned before, al qaeda is already a problem. it is resurging in different parts of the country. it's going to continue to play a spoiler. isis, they said right now it's currently, although lost territory, that it's as powerful as al qaeda was in 2006. that's what i was reading, the institute for the study of war had a piece on this. like maryanne is saying, territories are changing and things from the outside super ficially looked like they changed the bad actors are still there. as an american looking at this also from a national security perspective, it's absolutely not in our interests to just let this go on and fester.
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assad, he may -- he may -- him and his allies may go after isis when it's in his interest in the desert in the middle of nowhere, not doing anything to him, they're not necessarily going to put all the resources there to get them. i just -- i don't think that is -- that aside from the fact that the syrian people, like maryanne was saying, you have the syrian people who they are the ones that need to be okay with a man who has killed, they say in upwards of a million people and displaced 12 million remaining as their president. that's something that -- that question goes back to the syrian people to decide. >> thanks, jomana. i could see there are more demand for questions, but we are running out of time. i want to thank our panelists and end -- we've covered a lot, but i think actually what maryanne was underlining and saying, going back to where this was a peaceful demonstration that demonstrated for
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democracy is going to take, they still exist and i count on them to make it a reality in the future soon. >> thanks to the whole panel.
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tonight on c-span 3, american history tv in prime time with military historians on u.s. military strategy during the vietnam war. it's from a conference called the vietnam war at 50, critical reappraisals hosted by the virginia military institute. see that on american history tv on c-span 3 starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern. ♪ a quarter of a century ago, c-span launched our longest running and most successful community outreach program ever, the c-span bus program has paved the way for our grassroots community outreach, by engaging students, teachers and citizens in all 50 states. since 1993, the state-of-the-art mobile classroom and production
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