Syrian opposition refuses to add terrorism to United Nations talks agenda

Miranda GreerMar 03, 2017

The leader of an al-Qaida Syrian affiliate is deriding exiled Syrian politicians and rebels for taking part in talks mediated by the United Nations in Geneva with the aim of ending the Syrian conflict.

United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura has proposed to the negotiators in Geneva that the issue of fighting terrorism and the ceasefire should be handled in parallel talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Syria's opposition on Monday urged Russian Federation, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, to put pressure on Damascus to help kickstart sputtering peace talks in Geneva.

Kodmani was speaking after talks with a Russian envoy to the Geneva talks, which began last Thursday but which have struggled to get underway.

The U.N. -led negotiations edged forwards on Wednesday, for the first time in six days, as both sides saw hope of shaping the agenda to their liking, but with indirect talks wrapping up this weekend there is little prospect of any real breakthrough. Opposition sources had said they expected to meet the Middle East director at Russia's foreign ministry, Sergei Vershinin, later on Tuesday.

In a statement to Russian reporters, Gatilov said the Syrians do not have a problem with the agenda proposed by de Mistura, but they think that terrorism and fighting it are of greater urgency.

The talks are governed by U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, which sets out a political transition process including plans for a new constitution, U.N. -supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance.

However, de Mistura said he believes the issues of terrorism, ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid were the "specialty" of the "Astana" talks organized by Russia, Turkey and Iran, while the "Geneva" talks should rather focus on political matters.

The Geneva peace process has barely reached first gear, with five days of discussion exclusively on how to arrange the talks.

"We will not deal with it, and if (UN mediator Staffan de Mistura) adds it in any time we will not deal with it or discuss it", Yehya Kodmani of the High Negotiating Committee (HNC) told reporters.

"The Geneva talks seem to be something that everyone wants because they want to have talks", said Aron Lund, a fellow at the US -based Century Foundation think tank.

"The meeting was constructive as there is a common understanding that we need to move ahead in resolving the Syria crisis", Gatilov said, adding that the sides outlined their approaches to finding solutions to the Syria crisis.

Hariri said Russia had failed to "fulfill its role as a guarantor of the ceasefire" and that the opposition was "still looking for a positive Russian role in Syria".

"The Syrian opposition is still represented here in Geneva by several groups". "But if the US vacuum continues, I think Mistura will face a lot of obstacles on the way to a political solution".

"We are really waiting for the United States to build their positions on true information to have an active role in the region and to correct the grave mistakes of the Obama administration", Hariri said.

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