Syrian opposition ready for talks, wants Russian pressure on Assad

Orient Net 2017-02-25 17:52:00

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Syrian opposition is urging for face-to-face peace talks in Geneva, but things could fall apart if Russia does not pressure Assad regime on holding talks and push it to abide by a ceasefire, an opposition member said on Saturday.

The United Nations opened the peace talks with a symbolic ceremony on Thursday, attended by representatives of the Syrian opposition and Assad regime, but there has been no further direct contact, with UN mediator Staffan de Mistura still trying to get agreement on how the talks should be arranged.

"It’s off to a very slow start. We would like to make things happen fairly quickly," Basma Kodmani, a negotiator from the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said in an interview with Reuters.

"We have options, concrete operational options and we believe that direct negotiations are what should happen," Kodmani said.

De Mistura met both sides on Friday and gave them a paper with different options that need to be agreed in the next two or three days, accordint to Kodmani.

The launch of direct talks has been held up, at least in part, by several dissident groups, also invited to the talks, demanding to be part of the opposition negotiating team.

"You cannot continue discussing individuals who should be in or out," she said. "This platform is ready to negotiate in the name of all the opposition groups and it is ready to negotiate a solution for all Syrians."

Whether the talks are direct or indirect, or are split into different tracks, Kodmani said, the HNC had done a huge amount of work on all aspects of Syria’s political transition, which is what it wants to discuss.

But Assad regime’s negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari may try to avoid specific talk of "political transition," which the opposition understands to mean the end of Assad’s absolute power.

"We need to hear from Mr Ja’afari that he is serious about negotiations about political transition, about an agenda that will take us into the real issues, about how we resolve the problems and the conflict and how we respond to the concerns and fears of all Syrians," Kodmani said.

"When Mr de Mistura says we are here for transition, I don’t see how the regime can still turn away from that and say it is here with a serious intention of engaging."

She said the best hope for the talks was the interest of Assad’s ally, Russia, in pushing for a deal.

The ceasefire is shaky, but it and the political talks are mutually reinforcing, Kodmani said, and Russia needs to support both.

"Why did Russia deploy so much energy into getting the groups to agree on a ceasefire and not seek to make it sustainable by doing the necessary pressure as well in Geneva for the politics to happen?"

During the second day of the fourth round of the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on Friday, which focused on political issues including transitional governance, a new constitution, and free and fair elections, the Syrian opposition described it as "generally positive," praising de Mistura for being more engaged in discussing a political transition, Al Jazeera reported.

Hariri said the opposition presented its "understanding" of points in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that discusses political transition in Syria, including governance, the formation of a new constitution and new UN-supervised elections.

The opposition’s goal was to forge "a just political solution that ensures for the Syrian people its aspirations and dreams, for which it has paid a very high price," he said.

Opposition officials that their delegation would respond on Monday to the framework for political transition submitted by de Mistura, according to Al Jazeera.

"What will be discussed in the following days is the make-up of a transitional governing body - as in, who the members of this body would be," Mohammad Sabra, the chief negotiator for the opposition delegation, told Al Jazeera.

He said the opposition’s participation in the latest round of Geneva talks was aimed at finding ways to implement "mechanisms" to "force the Assad regime to comply with UN Security Council resolutions surrounding Syria, if it refuses to do so".

"The regime always claims that it is looking for a political solution," Sabra said.

"So far, it has not said that it refuses to implement the resolutions. Resolution 2118 stipulates that in the case of refusal, the Security Council can take measures based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter ... to force the regime to comply with international law, so that we can achieve political transition."