U.S. Policy Sparks Fire at Syrian Peace Conference
The Syrian peace conference, Geneva II, saw an extreme reaction from the current government delegation to U.S. support of the opposition, ending talks on Tuesday. This most recent diplomatic hiccup highlights the importance of international involvement in the talks, as well as how close to the surface tensions are at present. According to a New York Times interview with the lead negotiator for the opposition delegation, Oubai Shahbandar, the opposition had presented a thorough outline for future changes in Syria, but an “outburst” from Bashar al-Jaafari, the lead negotiator for the Syrian government, the talks ended for the day.
Syria’s minister of information, Omran al-Zoubi, spoke harshly of America’s congressional move to officially approve aid to Syrian rebel groups, saying that this went against the U.S.’s support of peace talks. He claimed that Russia’s support of his own delegation’s interest through arm sales is not comparable, as it is instead a legal agreement. “Russia is working with the Americans to find a political solution, and suddenly they find a solution which contradicts the initiative. Do they want to destroy Geneva?” Zoubi said, accusing the U.S. of backing terrorism, the Times reports.
According to the publication, Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the State Department in Geneva, had hard words to give in return. “Any notion that we support terrorists is ludicrous. The Assad regime is a magnet for terrorists. The regime’s brutality is the source of the violent extremism in Syria today. We support the moderate political and military opposition who are fighting for the freedom and dignity of all the Syrian people,” said Vasquez, per the New York Times.
“We have not had any breakthrough, but we are still at it and this is good enough as far as I am concerned. I will repeat again that these are not easy negotiations and they haven’t been easy today, they haven’t been … these past days and they will probably not be easy in the coming days,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nation’s Arab League Special Representative, according to a U.S. government statement. He noted that both Syrian delegations planned to continue the talks until Friday. “So nobody is walking out. Nobody is running away,” said Brahimi.
According to the same release, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said the children’s organization is still waiting for the “green light” after giving the government a list of the supplies it hopes to take into the Old City of Homs, “including emergency medical kit and cholera kit, soap and hygiene materials, water treatment supplies and oral dehydration salts, winter clothing for infants and polio vaccines,” all currently waiting at a warehouse outside the Old City.
The Geneva talks have touched on the need for humanitarian aid, with forces allowed into areas presently cut off from organizations. The New York Times reports that Western diplomats have indicated they may take the issue to the U.N. Security Council if progress isn’t made soon, especially because they believe Russia may be more sympathetic in light of its image with the Winter Olympics in Sochi coming up.