Outcomes of the Riyadh conference on Syria

The conference on Syria, hosted by Saudi Arabia, had been in the stages of planning for almost a year. While the Saudis organized the meeting, it was an event heavily supported by other countries including Turkey, the United States, Qatar, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, France, and also Russia.

The two-day conference in Riyadh began on Thursday 10th December 2015, and marked the most serious attempt yet to bring Syria’s heavily divided opposition groups together, in order to find an end to the country’s on-going conflict. Held in accordance with the desires of international officials, the timing of the conference was sped up by participating countries of the Vienna meetings, who focus on promoting peace and resolving the conflict in Syria.

Before the conference, it was revealed that the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), a coalition of opposition groups in the Syrian Civil War, had promised to use the conference as a means to unify all moderate opposition forces. The SNC also promised to use the conference as a step towards forming an interim government in line with the Geneva agreements on Syria that aim to bring together the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition to discuss clear steps towards a transitional government for Syria.

Leading up to the conference Hassan Abdul Azeem, General Coordinator of the SNC, said that ‘the Riyadh Conference is important and the coalition wants to ensure it is successful.’  The rest of the SNC agree with this view and also believe that the country will only be able to face up to its major political and military challenge if there is unity. Noah Bonsey, a Syria expert at the International Crisis Group, expressed that the opposition, prior to the conference, ‘[lacked] a vehicle’ that would allow them to ‘[achieve] a political resolution in Syria’, and hoped that the gathering in Riyadh would ‘result in a significant step toward addressing this shortcoming’.

Initially, the list of invitees to the conference began at around 65, but in order to appease factions, reduce tensions, prevent boycotts and balance out discrepancies, organisers added more names to the list, eventually resulting in approximately 100 delegates assembling in Riyadh.

During the conference, representatives agreed to negotiate with the government of Bashar al-Assad, bringing about the first time main Syrian rebel groups have come together in peace moves since the conflict began. The conference managed to establish a 32-member Supreme Council, made up of political opposition members and representatives of armed factions, who have been tasked with the duty of selecting the 15 people who will represent the opposition in future negotiations.

World powers want peace talks between a unified opposition delegation and the Syrian government to begin in January 2016, and hope that a political solution to the four-and-a-half-year conflict will eventually lead to the elimination of the Islamic State. The positive outcomes of the conference were internationally welcomed, with the efforts and initiatives made by Saudi Arabia being highly appreciated. Nations such as the Kingdom of Bahrain expressed that ‘the achievement made in the Riyadh conference is a strategic move in order to reach a political solution that meets the hopes and aspirations of the brotherly Syrian people’.