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Protect Syrians Now - By Putting Serious Dialogue Above Bombs

13/09/2013 16:27 BST | Updated 13/11/2013 10:12 GMT

We all feel pain when we see the pictures of the gassed children in Syria. We all want the civil war in Syria to end soon; this terrible war that has already been going on for two years, has forced millions to flee and has killed over a hundred thousand people. The UN have endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm as well as the norm of non-use of chemical and biological weapons in war. President Obama has drawn a 'red line' and Human Rights Watch clearly stated that Syrian president Assad has crossed the line.

So what are we waiting for? US president Obama was preparing an intervention to punish Assad, but all of a sudden a decided to halt the intervention and choose for diplomacy first. Is this a sign of weakness, as supporters of intervention say? Or just a political move to show he's not like George Bush and to gain more time to win votes for an intervention at a later stage? Personally I think that if Obama is really serious with his choice for bold diplomacy over dropping bombs he has got my support. It seems to be the only smart way to counter the current impasse.

No doubt, Assad has to leave, after the disaster he caused during the last two years. The entire discussion of whether he used gas or not isn't that relevant at all. With conventional weapons he already - directly or indirectly - killed over 100,000 of his own civilians. But the world has to be extremely careful to not get drawn into a war again, with high chances on contra-productive results for the civilians we aim to protect. Military intervention by the USA and its allies may lead to an escalation of violence in Syria and possibly ignite a war in the entire region. Syria may use its large number of missiles to attack neighboring countries like Turkey and Israel, both supporting the USA. In that case all Western allies will team up with the USA, Israel and Turkey against Syria, while Iran and Russia may decide to support Syria. No need to say how many casualties this will cause. Another million Syrians will feel forced to flee, with all the suffering that comes with it.

Violence should only be used when there is absolute no other way to come to a breakthrough and thus when all other non-violent opportunities have been explored extensively. One solution may be the latest development of Russia demanding Assad to bring all his chemical weapons under international control and I think it's a good thing that Obama decided to give this demand a chance.

When Syria hands over it's chemical weapons this could prevent new use and at the same time align both Russia and USA, thus reducing the chances for an escalation of violence. The first signs aren't positive though and politics may frustrate this initiative.

And Russia's hidden agenda may be that they 'convince' Assad to hand over his chemical weapons by providing him lots of new conventional weapons. According to Israeli intelligence this is already happening.

The world cannot tolerate such a monstrous deal to happen, as more people will get killed in Syria and a change of regime will get very unlikely. We need fewer weapons, not more!

On the other hand we must also be alert that the USA may have a hidden agenda that makes them eager to intervene. Despite the great rhetoric we must not think that Obama is the best moral compass ever, aiming to overthrow all authoritarian leaders in the Middle East. Weapons are continuously shipped from the USA to the regimes in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, while there are ongoing violations of human rights in these countries. Last week the USA shipped thousands of American made cluster bombs - worth 640 million dollar - to Saudi Arabia. While those bombs have been globally banned and Assad recently killed children with the same type of bombs.

This analysis in The Guardian shows that it may be about the oil once more. Hardly anyone is aware of the fact that behind the scenes, there's a very narrow-minded geopolitical power play going on, between Russia and Iran on one side and the USA and Qatar on the other. With only one party paying the price: the Syrian people.

Overseeing all of this the international community should really seriously push to solve the civil war in Syria via dialogue in Geneva between all stakeholders. It's a pity that USA and Russia didn't add 'Geneva' to their current demand yet. Until now Assad and the rebels both didn't feel inclined to talk with their enemies, as long as they weren't forced to do so by their partners, who only - on both sides - provided weapons, which only complicated the situation further. Again: nor politics, nor new weaponry nor other violence, such as military interventions, it won't bring sustainable safety for all Syrians. Should Russia and USA finally start to work together there is a chance that dialogue can bring a non-violent solution, including a change of regime. Especially since recently there has been a new moderate president in charge in Iran, Mr. Rouhani, who has pledged to search for a more collaborative approach towards the west. I have wholeheartedly signed the Avaaz petition that started last week and calls for an immediate dialogue between USA and Iran, that can surely force Assad to come to Geneva. As soon as one million people have signed this petition Avaaz will hand it over personally to the presidents of both countries.

And such a dialogue between the USA and Iran may also reinvigorate the extremely important process to come to a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone. Since the 90's efforts have been made to reach such a zone, crucial for the safety of the entire region. When countries don't possess chemical weapons they can't use them, it's that simple. Anything to bring about such a result should be an absolute priority anyway.

Dialogue has delivered a solution in the South African post apartheid era, thanks to Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Dialogue has delivered a solution after the 2008 civil war in Kenya, thanks to Kofi Annan, who said "I did what I forgot to do in Rwanda: talk till we've found a sustainable solution." Dialogue has also delivered solutions for other former conflicts, such as those in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Benin, Nepal and many others. Many see dialogue as the weaker option, but often it turns out to be the most powerful one, on the long run.

Dialogue above Judgment is also one of the statements of the youth-based peace movement MasterPeace, which is working in forty countries and actively supports that Avaaz petition. The other statements of MasterPeace are 'Music above fighting', 'Creation above destruction' and the important call for disarmament and weapon control: 'Bread above bombs'. I still believe those simple guidelines are the best answers to prevent new killings of innocent children, in Syria and many other fragile states.