The Syrian peace conference, known as “Geneva II” and held in Switzerland, has hit a number of major diplomatic stumbling blocks. Last week, the government delegation for Syria threatened to leave if “serious” talks had not commenced by last Saturday. The hold up had been over the opposing delegation’s insistence that they sign on to the communique of 2012, which outlined a plan for resolving conflict and stabilizing the country. “Both parties are going to be here tomorrow and they will be meeting. We will be working on Saturday and we will be working on Sunday. Nobody will be leaving on Saturday and nobody will be leaving on Sunday,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint special representative for Syria, following the threat.
While neither jumped ship over the weekend, discussions continue to be rough going, specifically problematic in regards to what role the current president, Bashar al-Assad, would play in the future of the country. Brahimi admitted that things haven’t been going smoothly. “We haven’t achieved much, but we are continuing. We are moving not in steps but even in half-steps,” he said.
The government delegation offered an alternative communique to the 2012 version. The opposition delegation rejected it, with its chief negotiator, Hadi al Bahra, telling Reuters that, “The declaration is outside the framework of Geneva, which centers on creating a transitional governing body. It fails to address the core issue.”
“What’s amazing is that they rejected this communique in less than two minutes,” said the Syrian Information Minister, Omran al-Zoubi, a representative with the government delegation. He claimed that the communique should have been easily approved, that no two Syrians would disagree on the items within, according to his statement via the Syrian Arab News Agency (or, SANA.)
A silver lining in the troubled negotiations came when the Syrian government chose to let women and children safely exit Homs, Syria, according to the United Nations News Centre. “We are going to inform our people in Damascus, or we have already informed them about this, so hopefully, starting tomorrow, women and children will be able to leave the old city of Homs,” said Lakhdar Brahimi. “I hope that the rest of civilians will be able to leave soon after that,” he said, explaining that names of the men were required by the government before this could happen. “There is an agreement now from the armed groups inside that they will not attack a humanitarian convoy if it enters Homs,” he said.
According to the UN press release, over 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, with 2.5 million in locations within the country where aid is either “seriously constrained or non-existent.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on both humanitarian efforts and need, as well as indirectly addressing the communique, in his remarks at the World Economic Forum.
“While we are proud to be the largest contributor to the humanitarian assistance to deal with those refugees, the ultimate solution can only come when we stop the supply of refugees, when we stop the fighting,” he said in a transcript of the talk via the U.S. Department of State. He also spoke on the subject of Bashar al-Asad. “Any transitional government formed by mutual consent by definition will not include Assad because the opposition will never consent to permit him to be there,” said Kerry.