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Geneva talks participants to make third attempt to start Syrian peace process

January 29, 9:57 UTC+3 GENEVA
UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, promised the Syrian people that this conference would not end in failure as the Geneva-1 in 2012 and Geneva-2 talks in 2014
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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

GENEVA, January 29. /TASS/. Negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition with a view to finding of way out of the severe conflict that will soon mark its fifth sad anniversary are beginning in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday. The meeting will start against the background of the total confusion over the talks participants, which, apparently, is not big surprise to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

From the very start he did not say that the negotiations will be easy and so he did his best not to announce a successful outcome in advance. That is why the long-awaited meeting begins in the form of indirect negotiations and will last from two to three weeks at the initial stage, and in total — for at least six months. However, Mistura has still promised the Syrian people that this conference would not end in failure as the Geneva-1 in 2012 and Geneva-2 talks in 2014.

Starting with no opposition from Riyadh

Despite the fact that de Mistura had sent invitations to the potential participants in the peace conference on January 22, it is still unclear who exactly will arrive in Geneva on Friday. So, there is still intrigue regarding the participation in the talks of the opposition Supreme Negotiating Committee supported by Riyadh. The committee members have not yet decided whether to fly to Switzerland or not. They have been sitting in session the Saudi capital for the past few days trying to solve this issue. Despite the fact that UN and also Russia with the United States have urged them to take part in the meeting without any preconditions, they do not agree to come to the talks until the points of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 adopted last December are fulfilled. They are primarily interested in such aspects as ensuring unhindered humanitarian assistance supply, including to the "cities besieged by the government troops", as well as stopping "attacks on civilians." On Thursday, representatives of the Supreme Negotiating Committee made a decision not to fly to Geneva on Friday: they are expecting the UN to give them the guarantees that their demands will be met. In this connection it is not ruled out that they will not appear before Monday at the Palais des Nations (Palace of Nations) where the European Office of the United Nations is headquartered.

Another delegation from the opposition

Nevertheless, the Supreme Negotiating Committee will not be the only representative of the opposition. TASS has learnt that representatives of the so-called moderate opposition have also received invitations to the talks. They will participate in the negotiations as a separate delegation. Thus, representative of the leadership of the Syrian Popular Front for Change and Liberation and former Syrian Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, as well as co-chair of the opposition Syrian Democratic Council Haytham Manna are expected to come to Geneva.

Kurds not invited to negotiations

Among the parties missing at the negotiations is the Syrian Kurdish party Democratic Alliance that has not been invited due to Turkey’s pressure. Ankara is strongly opposed to the participation of the Kurds in any negotiations. This position is not shared by Moscow that says that without the participation in the negotiations of Kurds that make up about 15% of Syria's population, it is inadmissible to decide the future of the country. It is possible, however, that they will join the negotiations at a later stage.

Accordingly, the invitation has been sent to the Syrian government. The official Damascus delegation is expected to be led by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Geneva-2 mistakes should not be repeated

Thus, de Mistura is facing a very difficult task to try to break the deadlock in the settlement process by means of separate talks thus putting an end to the war that has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people, according to UN estimates. More than 4 million people have left the country, millions have become internally displaced persons. The United Nations emissary also hopes to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Geneva-2 conference that was held in Switzerland two years ago. Then the sides of the conflict, initially planned to be gathered at one negotiating table, never talked to each other, and the peace process start failed. During the whole two rounds of talks in Geneva the sides were arguing on how to begin to implement the Geneva Communique — a document adopted at the first Peace Conference Geneva-1 on June 20, 2012 that laid the foundation for the current process. The opposition saw only one opportunity to start negotiations with the delegation of official Damascus — to start the discussion of the ways to create a transitional governing that will not include Syrian President Bashar Assad. The government’s delegation proposed to solve the problem of terrorism first.

De Mistura is certain that the stake on indirect talks in such a situation will give him the needed flexibility. He said that indirect give him a lot of flexibility regarding how many times and whom to meet. One thing is clear — the indirect talks will be held until the time for direct negotiations comes. Everything else is open to a certain extent so that to give the possibility to adapt and invent, because the situation requires it, he said.

"We will never abandon the Syrian people"

On the eve of the beginning of the peace talks de Mistura said that the current conference cannot end in failure, as it happened in the previous two cases. He promised the Syrian people that the United Nations will not disappoint them.

"We are going not to disappoint you from the UN point of view. You know we will never abandon the Syrian people, but we need now you to feel that this time is the right one, we will do all what we can," he said.

According to the UN, de Mistura has said the Geneva meetings will start with proximity talks and are expected to last for six months, with government and opposition delegations sitting in separate rooms and UN officials shuttling between them, with the immediate priorities being a broad ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and halting the threat posed by the Islamic State. The talks stem from an agreement reached in Vienna in November by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), comprising the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries including the United States and Russia, as part of an effort to end the war with an agreement on new governance, a new constitution and new elections.

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