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Syrian government hopes Russian pressure can help enlarge opposition delegation

January 31, 2014, 5:16 UTC+3 GENEVA
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GENEVA, January 31, 4:04 /ITAR-TASS/. The government of Syria hopes that Russia will put pressure on the United States to make the opposition delegation to the Geneva II international conference more representative, the Syrian president’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said on Thursday, January 30.

“We expect Russia to exert a bit more pressure on the U.S. so that all sides of the Syrian opposition were represented at the forum,” she said, adding that “Russia is trying to do so and is taking effort towards that.”

At their talks in Moscow on May 7, 2013, Russian Foreign Minister 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.

If the international conference on Syria known as Geneva II is attended only by the Syrian opposition from abroad, the forum will be useless, Lavrov said earlier.

“Our main task now is that our American partners and those who communicate with the opposition most often, with all of its wings, and those who have more influence on the whole opposition than we do, that they tell us what it is like now,” the minister said.

“We do not want the talks to be profaned. We do not want the people who will sit across the table from the government to be unable to bear responsibility for their words later. It’s a critical stage. Our Western colleagues who have taken the National Coalition under their wing and who are advancing it as the main speaker for the opposition’s aspirations, they must be responsible for the approaches with which this group will come to Geneva and for whom it will actually represent there,” Lavrov said.

“We are not just watching passively. Unlike the West which is working only with the opposition, we are working both with the government and the opposition. We meet with all opposition groups and want to hear what they wish for their country. We will help Syrians foster an inclusive dialogue and move to do what the international community expects them to do - come to agreement on the future of their country,” he said.

“The opposition should be represented at a proper level in its entirety, not by one group, the legal capacity of which raises big questions, given the mess and confusion within it, as well as its thrashing around when it comes to Geneva II [international conference],” the minister said.

All questions “need to be clarified because we are told that the National Coalition will represent everyone. We have been receiving very contradictory signals from the Syrian opposition: at one time its leader says that they have made the decision to go [to Geneva II], but then his deputy says that going there would be senseless until they have military superiority on the ground. Or the opposition says at first that there will be no reconditions, but just recently the National Coalition leadership said again that the Friends of Syria Group [Western countries, countries in the region and other states that support the National Coalition] had gathered in London several months ago and stated support to the National Coalition and agreed that it should demand the change of the regime at the conference,” Lavrov said.

“These are nothing more than preconditions that should not exist. The conference should have one agenda, specifically the communique adopted in June of last year in Geneva, which says that all questions concerning the future of the country should be decided by the Syrians themselves through talks between the government and all opposition groups on the basis of common consensus, and that all external actors should encourage the Syrians to do that,” the minister said.

“At the same time, other political opponents of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, who are not emigrants but people who always lived and still live in Syria - the National Coordination Committee and the Kurdish Supreme Committee - disagree with the National Coalition’s leadership because they disagree with its extremist demands, as they put it. All this needs to be clarified,” Lavrov said.

“The National Coalition [for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces] is not the only mechanism of the Syrian opposition,” the minister said earlier. “The Coalition consists mainly of people who emigrated from Syria to Europe and other countries a long time ago. They are now concerned with working out their position because apart from changing the regime they have no constructive platform to offer to the Syrian population.”

“I do not think they have much support within Syria because the structures operating there are made up not of emigrants but of those who have never left Syria and who work in the opposition that is not loyal to the regime,” Lavrov said.

In his opinion, these are the National Coordination Committee and Kurdish parties which “are not pocket ones.” “There is the opposition that is prepared to cooperate with the present government, but there are also those who believe it important to talk about some new transitional forms and consider the Geneva Communique a good opportunity to start moving along this road, especially now that the Syrian regime has stated its readiness to give a positive reply to the Russian-American initiative to convene Geneva II and work on the basis of last year’s Communique without preconditions,” he said.

“There are also combat units subordinated to different political forces and there are those who are not subordinated to anyone, who oppose the regime but are convinced of the need to preserve the secular nature of the state. And there are extremists and terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and other of Al-Qaeda’s off-springs which openly state their intention to create a caliphate in Syria and around it. These ideas are also preached by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a group that has recently distanced itself from Al-Qaeda. So there are a variety of groups with differing ideologies and approaches to the future of the country,” Lavrov noted.

“We have no doubt that the opposition groups that have always worked inside Syria - the National Coordination Committee and Kurdish organisations - should be at the conference,” 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.

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