This engagement between Americans, Kurds and Khaled al Ahmad [Assad's 'secret' emissary] goes as far back as the Obama administration, when Syrian government forces and Kurdish forces were battling ISIS in the northeast. It was when al Ahmad met Obama’s head of Middle East Policy, Robert Malley, according to an American official briefed on the meetings, that the issue of cooperation against ISIS arose.
Known to be skeptical of US regime change efforts, Malley frequently turned to al Ahmad for ammunition against the anti-Assad hawks in the White House.
While al Ahmad was able to shape Malley’s arguments, the two did not see entirely eye to eye. Al Ahmad bristled at Malley’s offer of US support for the Syrian army in the war against ISIS in exchange for Assad committing to relinquishing power. The Syrian negotiator dismissed it as a recipe for state collapse and a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
[...]The report is so vast in scope and implications it has to be read in its entirety; here I will content myself with quoting just a few more passages:
In February 2014 [almost two years before Russia entered the war] Assad gave a speech in front of all his governors instructing them that reconciliations were their new strategy. At the time it would have proved difficult to implement such a strategy given the rigid and uncompromising mentality of Syria’s system and because rebels and their backers wanted to escalate the conflict to achieve “regime change.”
In the end when Assad needed somebody to implement his ideas on reconciliation, he chose al Ahmad. While many enemies of the government condemn it for refusing to compromise in Geneva and essentially surrender, they fail to recognize that like it or not, the government was engaging in diplomacy to end the war. With al Ahmad as Assad’s representative internationally and sometimes locally they were pursuing options besides war. And when many other officers and commanders began holding meetings with rebel leaders throughout the country there was a real diplomatic process of people sitting and negotiating. But it never received international support.
Of course the 'international community' didn't support Assad's reconciliation approach; doing so would have undermined their portrayal of him as a monster who didn't have the interests of all the Syrian people at heart. But this portrayal was so false that it backfired when Assad unexpectedly survived; today it is the 'international community,' not Assad, which the vast majority of Syrians see as a monster.
To return to Khalek's report:
While Western pundits often framed the war in Syria as a sectarian conflict pitting Alawite against Sunni, the reality for Syrians was far more complex. Syria is a majority Sunni country and most Sunnis remained supportive of the Syrian state during the conflict. Because the mostly Sunni areas bore the brunt of the rebel takeover, many of their residents became repulsed by the presence of extremist Sunni rebels, demonstrating more resentment for them than minorities aligned with the government..
This helps explain why the Syrian colonel who controlled the checkpoint in Waer had harsh words for the insurgents.
“The Syrian army is from all sects,” he told me. “The terrorists are not.”
The colonel is Sunni and like the Sunnis who make up some 75 percent of Syria’s population, he was outraged that the insurgency sought to impose a Sunni supremacist state run along jihadist ideological lines on the rest of the country.
“I’m a Sunni security guy with the mukhabarat. I’m from Idlib,” the colonel continued. “These sons of bitches took over my town. Even if I disagree with all the governors and officials in Syria, I’m not going to destroy my country. Is there any ‘revolution’ in the world that destroys hospitals and prevents children from going to school? They want only to destroy Syria. We are not going to allow them. When the U.S. and the khaleejis [Gulf states] and that son of a bitch Erdogan stop arming the rebels, Syria will be at peace.”