SyriaSource|Amplifying Syrian voices

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The clearest indicator that the October 30th meeting in Vienna on Syria may have fallen short of a substantive breakthrough was State Department spokesman John Kirby's awkward attempt to sell the meeting's communique as an improvement over what was agreed by the Permanent Five members of the United Nations and others in Geneva over three years ago. Salesmanship aside, the future of this Vienna initiative will likely be foretold before the participants reconvene in two weeks. If barrel bombs stop and sieges are lifted—steps that Moscow and Tehran can dictate to the Assad regime—Vienna can emerge as an open door to diplomatic progress and not a time-killing, action-free process amounting to a death warrant and migration incentive for thousands of Syrians.

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Despite their best efforts, pro-democracy groups in Idlib and Aleppo, provinces with a strong opposition presence, have failed in their repeated attempts to create a strong, civil administrative system in the vacuum left by the Assad regime. The challenges these pro-democracy groups face vary significantly between the two provinces. Nonetheless, the greatest threat to a successful civil administration comes from the Assad regime and Islamist factions who are trying to nip any democratic system in the bud because it threatens the arbitrary rule they promote.

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Frederic C. Hof, Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center, delivered an address on October 28 at the British ParliamentHis remarks highlight the courage of one Syrian, known as Caesar, who smuggled out photographs of the Syrian government’s mass killings, in hopes that the West would respond and stop the horrors that are happening. Hof later spoke on CNN’s Amanpour show about the United States considering new options for Syria. Please read excerpts of his remarks to the British Parliament below.

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Whether or not Iran will accept an invitation to Syria-related discussions in Vienna this Friday with the United States, Russia, and others remains unknown, at least to the Department of State spokesman. Clearly Iran is a "stakeholder" in the Syrian conflict and a party vitally interested in that conflict's outcome. Given its deep and abiding interest in the political survival of Bashar al-Assad, expectations of Iranian cooperation in a stabilizing political transition should be minimal. If it wishes, however, Tehran can be of some service to the people of Syria without abandoning that which it defines as a paramount national security interest in Assad's preservation.

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With well over four-million refugees and roughly double that number internally displaced, Syria is an apt subject for the question, ‘How much worse can it get?’ The answer is much worse. With Russia now engaged militarily in an attempt to create for Syrians and the world a purely binary choice between two horrific criminal enterprises—the Assad regime and Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Da’esh)—it is hard to understand why any Syrian with a modicum of means and motivation would wish to stay in a country set upon by wolves. At least the otherwise idle West can no longer comfort itself with the illusion that the Syrian crisis can be “contained.” But what can be done? Should, for example, a no-fly zone be imposed?

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Russia’s recent intervention in the Syrian crisis will create new circumstances to which the Kurdish forces must respond and adopt a position. Whatever the Kurds decide will alter the current equation and ultimate outcome of the Syrian crisis.

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