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Syrian opposition delegation lineup still unknown 48 hrs before Geneva II

January 20, 2014, 20:53 UTC+3 BEIRUT
The conference, originally scheduled to take place in Geneva, will now be held in two parts: in Montreux, and, after a day’s break, moving on 24 January to the world body’s headquarters in Geneva
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Syrian oppositions meeting in Istanbul, 2013

Syrian oppositions meeting in Istanbul, 2013

© EPA/ITAR-TASS

BEIRUT, January 20. /ITAR-TASS/. Less than 48 hours before the beginning of the Geneva II international conference on Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, scheduled for January 22, the lineup of the Syrian opposition delegation remains unknown.

Munzir Khaddam, spokesman for the National Coordination Committee (NCC) for the Forces of Democratic Change, said in Damascus on Monday, January 20, that the Committee was continuing to boycott the forum and would not join the delegation led by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

“The terms of presence at Geneva II that have been offered to us are unacceptable and humiliating,” he told the Al Watan news service.

At the same time, NCC leader Hassan Abdul-Azim said he was hopeful that the conference would be postponed for two weeks so that the opposition could come to agreement on the composition of its delegation.

He dismissed proposals to include several of the National Coalition members in the delegation as evil intent designed to exclude the patriotic opposition from the settlement process.

Abdul-Azim blamed this on American diplomats who ignored and downplayed the NCC’s role from the very beginning.

 

However he continues to believe that Geneva II is the only way to find a political solution to the crisis. Otherwise, violence, bloodshed and anarchy will continue, he warned.

Another obstacle the conference organisers have encountered was the Istanbul coalition’s decision to suspend participation in the forum because of the controversy over the invitation to Iran.

Following the announcement that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had sent an invitation to Iran to attend Geneva II, National Coalition spokesperson Louay Mekdad said Iran should withdraw Shiite armed groups and its military specialists from Syria first, Al Arabiya television said.

Michel Kilo, a senior member of the National Coalition, who will most likely lead the opposition delegation to the conference, said the coalition had temporarily suspended contacts to prepare the talks in Geneva.

The National Coalition’s General Assembly in Istanbul on Saturday, January 18, made the decision to attend Geneva II. The decision was supported by 58 of 73 coalition members. Initially, the decision had to be adopted on Friday, January 17, but was postponed for a day because of disagreements among national Coalition members.

The United Nations urged the Syrian opposition to name the line-up of its delegation to Geneva II as soon as possible so as to have enough time to prepare the forum.

A spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said on January 8 that the numerous meetings between different opposition groups held lately had indicated growing disagreements between them.

Over the past weeks, six blocs and several independent members have left the National Coalition, which minimises the chances of having a single delegation at the conference.

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 observer Wassim Ibrahim said Geneva II would take place anyway as there is no alternative to it, and all key actors have agreed with that.

In his opinion, the sides will adopt a declaration of intent that will include a provision on the division of power between the ruling regime and the opposition for the sake of joint anti-terrorism efforts in Syria.

The West believes that the sanctions imposed against the Syrian government two years ago had borne fruit and made Damascus look for a compromise to avoid the conference’s fiasco, the expert said.

The West, Turkey and Arabs have done their best to raise the level of the Istanbul coalition. Its leader Ahmad Jarba said the National Coalition’s delegation would go to Geneva in order to bury the ruling regime.

A reply from Damascus came right away. Representatives of patriotic parties, public movements, cultural workers and the clergy held a forum in the Syrian capital, the underlying motive of which was that Syrian people would have the final say in Geneva.

In the final resolution they stressed that the government delegation to fly to Switzerland on Tuesday, January 21, was the real mouthpiece for the interests of Syria and its people. They called on all sides concerned to take practical steps in Geneva in order to stop the terrorist aggression in Syria and asked President Bashar al-Assad to run for a new presidential term in the upcoming election.

Assad told France Presse that the probability of doing that was quite high.

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.

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.

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