syria rivals gather for talks but same hurdles remain
Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today
Last Updated : GMT 05:21:58
Arab Today, arab today

Syria rivals gather for talks but same hurdles remain

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Syria rivals gather for talks but same hurdles remain

Smoke billows from buildings following reported airstrikes
Geneva/Moscow - Arab Today

Rival negotiators arrived in Geneva Wednesday for UN-brokered talks aimed at ending Syria’s six-year conflict while Russia said it is waiting for the US to come up with proposals on possible cooperation in Syria.
At a news conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that the US proposal about creating so-called safe areas in Syria must be first agreed with the Syrian government, said Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
President Bashar Assad’s delegation and an opposition team are in the Swiss city for Thursday’s resumption of talks, after a 10-month hiatus, with persistent violence and deadlock over the country’s political future dampening hopes of a breakthrough.
The government delegation, which as previously is headed by Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Al-Jaafari, arrived late Wednesday morning and went straight to an upscale hotel near Geneva airport.
The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), headed by cardiologist Nasr Al-Hariri and lawyer Mohammad Sabra, arrived a few hours later and went to a separate high-end hotel nearby.
The ground — both in territory and diplomatically — has shifted since the last round of talks broke up in April 2016 and the opposition is a significantly weaker position.
The army has recaptured the opposition bastion of eastern Aleppo and the US, once staunchly opposed to Assad, has said it is reassessing every aspect of its Syria policy under President Donald Trump.
But several of the toughest issues remain similar to a year ago.
The opposition quit the last round in protest at escalating bloodshed and on Wednesday warned that cease-fire violations were once again a major hurdle.
“The obstacles are clear and one of them is that there is no advance in consolidating the cease-fire,” said HNC adviser Yehya Aridi.
The latest truce on Dec. 30 was brokered by opposition supporter Turkey and regime-backer Russia ahead of separate negotiations that also involved Iran in Kazakhstan.
The deal has reduced violence but fighting flared again this week including a government bombing campaign on opposition territory around Damascus.
The HNC charged that Assad was trying to send “a bloody message” before the talks resume.
A bitter dispute over Assad’s fate also continues to divide the camps.
The HNC has insisted he must leave office as part of any deal, while Damascus has said the president’s future is not open for negotiation.
“This rule saying ‘everything or nothing’ hampers any chance or opportunity for a political solution,” Aridi said.
HNC spokesman Ahmed Ramadan insisted the opposition were not the only ones eager to see Assad go.
“The Assad issue is already decided, not only for us but also for many international actors,” he told reporters.
Even Damascus’s main ally Moscow had told opposition members it was “not concerned by Bashar Assad and his future, but by the destiny of Syria and the future of the Syrian state,” he said.
UN mediator Staffan de Mistura’s office on Tuesday asserted that the talks remain focused on “political transition.” For the UN, that term can include a broad range of scenarios but the opposition sees it as implying Assad’s removal.
Forcing the Syrian president from power had been the stated goal of Barack Obama’s administration but Trump’s election has muddied the US stance and the opposition’s negotiating position.
Trump has said that defeating Daesh is Washington’s top priority in the region and that the US would be narrowly focused on American interests.
But in a sign that Washington still stands behind the opposition, US Syria envoy Michael Ratney met with HNC advisers on Wednesday.
When questioned by AFP about the meeting, Ratney merely said that he’d “had delicious tea.”
A US diplomatic source told AFP that Ratney aimed to “remain in close contact” with the opposition delegation during the talks, insisting “the United States remains committed to a political resolution to the Syrian conflict.”
Yet the HNC’s Ramadan warned that the shift in Washington would compound difficulties in striking a deal.
“President Trump’s position on Syria and the Middle East is not yet clear, and therefore the position of the international community seems unclear regarding how eager the regional parties are to find a fair political solution for Syria,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile, Russian defense minister on Wednesday hailed the military’s performance in Syria, saying new Russian weapons have proven their worth in the conflict.
Sergei Shoigu told the Russian Parliament that the military has tested 162 types of weapons in Syria, and only 10 of them have failed to meet expectations. He didn’t identify the weapons that performed badly.
Among the new weapons tested in combat for the first time in Syria were long-range cruise missiles carried by navy ships and strategic bombers.
Until recently, Russia lacked long-range cruise missiles equipped with conventional warheads similar to those in the US arsenals.
Shoigu said Russian pilots have flown 1,760 combat missions in Syria since the launch of the air campaign in September 2015, killing more than 3,100 militants, including 26 warlords. He added that nearly 90 percent of all Russian military pilots have gained combat experience in the skies over Syria.
He said that a recent mission of the Russian aircraft carrier group near Syria’s shores was a success despite the loss of two carrier-borne fighters in accidents, adding that the navy gained valuable experience that would help prevent glitches in the future.
When Russia intervened in Syria, Assad’s government was teetering on the brink of collapse. The Russian air support allowed Assad’s troops to win some key ground.
“The breakup of the Syrian state has been prevented, a civil war has been practically stopped,” Shoigu said. The minister appeared to refer to December’s truce brokered by Russia and Turkey, even though fighting has continued to rage.
He boasted about a massive effort to maintain the Syrian campaign, saying that it has seen 2,000 metric tons of cargo supplied to Syria daily by sea and air.
There have been no official data on the number of Russian troops in Syria, but the Russian media estimated it at over 4,000 based on voter rolls from last September’s Russian parliamentary elections.
Shoigu said that Russia has deployed two military police battalions in Syria, one to Aleppo and another to Wadi Barada near Damascus.
The minister said the military’s special forces have performed well in the conflict, targeting the militant leaders and helping pinpoint targets.

Sourc: Arab News

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