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Geneva II to start with signing of Syrian settlement declaration

December 19, 2013, 22:49 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The declaration will state the parties’ agreement to form an interim government in compliance with the Geneva accords
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MOSCOW, December 19, 22:35 /ITAR-TASS/. The international conference on Syria known as Geneva II will begin with the signing of a declaration laying out the principles of conflict resolution in Syria.

The pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat has reported that the document will be signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Ahmad al-Jarba, the leader of the opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The declaration will state the parties’ agreement to form an interim government in compliance with the Geneva accords of June 30, 2012.

This will mark the end of the international part of the conference to begin in Montreux on January 22, 2014, with the expected participation of 30 countries. The delegations of the Syrian government and opposition will then move to the Palais des Nations in Geneva for a closed-door discussion to be mediated by Brahimi and the U.N. Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

The Syrian delegation will include Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, his Deputy Faisal Mekdad and presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.

The composition of the Syrian opposition’s delegation is still unknown. The National Coalition is beset with disagreements. The upcoming extension of al-Jarba’s term for seven months is in doubt following his failure to build up a 40,000-strong insurgent army from Bedouins.

Salim Idris, head of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, who enjoys the trust of Western countries, has basically become a general with no troops after a split between the Free Syrian Army and brigades of Islamic fundamentalists who have created the Islamic Front.

No compromise has so far been reached by Syrian Kurdish leaders at their meeting now underway in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. Most Kurds, just like opposition factions inside Syria, are against giving the National Coalition a leading role at the talks.

According to Al-Hayat, Brahimi hopes that he will be able to overcome the disagreements between the leaders of the external and internal Syrian opposition in the remaining days.

The Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to the Geneva conference. Its leader Mohamamd Riad al-Shaqfeh said the conference was stillborn and would produce no result.

“[Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad can have no role in the future of Syria. There can be no presidential elections with his participation. Even if the National Coalition makes a political deal with the regime, the Syrian people will reject it. The coalition cannot act without the support of rebels and revolutionaries,” said al-Shaqfeh, who took part in the anti-government riot in Hama in 1982.

Lebanese expert Karim Pakraduni told ITAR-TASS that the political process to start in Montreux and Geneva would be long and thorny. He believes that neither the Syrian sides nor the leading regional players, primarily Saudi Arabia, are prepared for serious negotiations.

Several more forums in the same format (Geneva III, Geneva IV and Geneva V) will follow before a historic compromise is worked out, the expert said.

In his opinion, the settlement in Syria will be a success only if extremist forces are dealt a devastating blow.

Syrian Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi said the Syrian delegation would go to Geneva “in hope to stop the terrorist war against the people of Syria and their state.”

“We are going to Geneva without preconditions in order to start a dialogue with the patriotic-minded opposition that advocates a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” he said.

The goal of Geneva II would be to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on June 30, 2012.

The communique lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

At their talks in Moscow on May 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to hold an international conference on the basis of the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012, in order to try to overcome the crisis in Syria.

Lavrov and Kerry said that their countries would encourage both the Syrian government and opposition groups to look for a political solution.

Tere are 32 countries invited to the conference, but that number may increase because everyone wants to come, the newspaper Daily Star quoted an unnamed Arab diplomat as saying. “In addition to the five permanent members of the Security Council [the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China], there are the neighbouring countries, as well as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and also Germany and Italy and others.”

“Each delegation will be composed of nine members and both the regime and the opposition should present their lists to the U.N. by December 27, but it is not certain they will respect this date,” the Arab diplomat said.

The conference, originally scheduled to take place in Geneva, will now be held in two parts, with the opening session in Montreux, and, after a day’s break, moving on 24 January to the world body’s headquarters in Geneva. The conference will bring the Syrian government and the opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the conflict started in March 2011.

The talks would not be open-ended, and a time frame would be set once the negotiations started, Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for Brahimi, who is organising the conference, said.

Further details are expected to be discussed on Friday in a trilateral meeting between Brahimi and officials from the United States and Russia.

The trilateral group, due to meet at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, would then be joined by permanent representatives of other permanent members of the Security Council - China, France and the United Kingdom - as well as of the League of Arab States, European Union and Syria’s immediate neighbours - Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.

In addition to logistics, the meeting will discuss items such as the list of countries to be invited, and the compositions of the Syrian government and opposition delegations.

“The JSR [joint special representative] would like to know the names of participants as soon as possible, by the end of the year the latest, so that he could commence preliminary consultations with them,” Mattar said referring to Brahimi.

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