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The treacherous path to Syria's 2014 elections

Imagine if Assad got voted out in the 2014 elections; and then he left, admitting that the elections were free and fair, that he had out stayed his welcome and it was time to go. "If I feel that the Syrian people do not want it…I will not stand," he was recently recorded saying on Lebanese TV station Al-Manar.

This scenario is just about as unlikely as a recent statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister is genuine – "We believe that this crisis has no military solution and only a Syrian political one," he said at a news conference on Saturday; elsewhere it has been widely reported that along with Russia, Iran are the main source of arms supply to the government.

Whatever happens beyond the 2014 polls, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem has insisted that Assad will remain president at least until the vote. "From now until the next elections, President Bashar Assad is president of the Syrian Arab Republic," he pledged. If Assad wins he can theoretically run for two terms until 2028; he has already been in power since 2000 when he took over from his father.

But another event must be mastered first, and that is the upcoming Geneva Conference scheduled to take place (though will probably be postponed further) towards the end of this month. In theory the Assad regime has agreed to attend, though only if no preconditions are attached and if what is decided there is offered up for referendum afterwards.

But the opposition and Western countries involved have said that they will not participate in the conference unless Assad stands down. Though the United States had previously said Assad must relinquish power, now they have agreed for his regime to attend. This will not only legitimize his government, but also split the opposition.

Whilst the international players tangled up in Syria's future seek to reach a universal decision in order for the Geneva conference to go ahead, reports concerning what is happening on the ground are worsening by the day. Yesterday French laboratory tests confirmed that the nerve agent sarin has been used in the strongest evidence to materialise since the conflict began in 2011.

A report by the UN on the same day cited governmental use of thermobaric bombs that generate extreme heat and extract oxygen from the lungs. Also detailed were the wide deployment of child soldiers, executions carried out and witnessed by children, and torture.

Amidst the talk of elections, the conference, and escalating human rights abuses, President Vladimir V. Putin has denied that his S-300 anti-aircraft systems have arrived in Syria, despite previous reports confirming their presence.

Whether Russia has delivered or simply offered the missiles, much like William Hague's recent decision not to renew an arms embargo banning the delivery of arms to Syria, suggests neither side is genuine about the prospect of a diplomatic solution.

This, with the reality of Assad in power until the 2014 elections is a terrifying prospect.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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