Geneva II Peace Talks: Syrian Delegation Threatens to Leave

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Syrian peace talks in Switzerland — dubbed “Geneva II” — were scheduled to begin Friday, but have run into major obstacles blocking progress. Walid al-Moallem, the head of the “official delegation” representing Syria, told the United Nations envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, that the Syrian delegation would leave if the opposition does not sit down for peace talks by the end of tomorrow. “The Syrian stance is an attempt to pressure the others to be serious,” said al-Moallem, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (or, SANA).

A UN spokesperson announced that Brahimi met separately with both delegations from Syria, first with Ahmed al-Jarba, and then with Walid al-Mouallem. Unfortunately, the former refused to meet with the opposing party, insistent that al-Mouallem’s delegation officially sign on to the Final communique of 2012 — reports BBC, whose reporter, Bridget Kendall, notes that the talks are for all intents and purposes about the implementation of the communique. Both Syrian delegations are blaming the other for the talks failure to progress.

The communique in question, created June 6, 2012, outlined a six point plan for the common commitment to change in Syria — the end of current violence being of particular emphasis. Included in the communique were measures including the “freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists’ right to demonstrate peacefully,” and the use of a transitional governing body while a constitutional system is put into place — meaning that present leadership in Syria would be removed.

Fayssal Mikdad, the Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister in the delegation alongside al-Mouallem, said that make up of the delegation is cause for displeasure on top of their unwillingness to sit down as planned. “We don’t want further complications; we want the opposition’s representation to be credible, meaning that it should represent all spectra of the Syrian opposition on [grounds] which have gravity and influence. This is why we’re wondering: with whom are we going to sit now?” said Mikdad, as reported by SANA.

He also had harsh words for foreign ministers who spoke at the conference including the U.S., France, Britain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. “They must be held accountable as war criminals because they are the ones who provided the tools for killing currently being used by their pawns in Syria to murder the Syrian people.” He spoke more positively of his communications with the UN representative for Syria, Brahimi, and of Syria’s “Russian friends.”

The conference has in attendence forty Sates and organizations, including Russia, which has been rumored to be a provider of weapons to the present regime in Syria, led by current President, Bashar al-Assad — who’s removal the opposition is insistent upon. “I don’t have any independent confirmation of those reports [about Russia]. I did discuss the report with the Secretary this morning, and his view is that if these reports are true, that would certainly raise great concerns about the role that Russia is playing in continuing to enable the Assad regime of brutalizing the Syrian people,” said Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State last week.

Secretary of State for the U.S., John Kerry, spoke in an interview Thursday, explaining some of the concerns of the opposition delegation in regards to the communique. “The one [delegation] that refused to talk about it is obviously the Assad regime,” he said, in remarks provided by the U.S. Department of State. “But in the end, because the Geneva I communique requires a transition government by mutual consent, there is not way that the opposition is ever going to consent to Assad being part of that future. So if Syria is going to find a political solution, it has to find it through a transition government, and Assad needs to put Syria in front of Assad,” said Kerry.

“The key here is for people to find the personalities in Syria — and they exist — that everybody respects people who have the ability to be able to look beyond sectarian divisions,” said Kerry. He also fielded questions on where Iran could fall in the Geneva II negotiations. Historically, Iran has been a major ally to Syria, making its attendance at the peace conference a potentially positive addition. However, Iran’s invitation to the conference was reliant on its acceptance of the 2012 Geneva communique, and UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, retracted Iran’s invitation to talks after its public statements did not line up with the assurances it had made in private.

“Iran clearly has an impact,” said Kerry, noting that it has the International Risk Governance Council (or, IRGC) deal with military issues in Syria, and that Iranian terrorist group, Hezbollah, has a distinct presence in Syria. “Iran could have come to Geneva, but they refused to embrace” the standards of the Geneva I communique. “So what Iran needs to do is either show that it’s more than words or it will be very difficult to have Iran be part of this,” said Kerry.

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