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Lavrov warns against unilateral interpretations of Geneva Communique

Russia's Foreign Minister highlighted results of the first day of Geneva II conference and some of the key issues to be discussed
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
© AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

MONTREUX, January 22./ITAR-TASS/. The United States and some European countries are tempted to interpret the Geneva Communique in terms of changing the regime in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“Today we stressed the importance of strict compliance with the Geneva Communique. This is the essence and the basis of the Russian and U.S. initiative to hold Geneva II, and warned against unilateral interpretations of the communique in a certain way,” Lavrov said at a news conference after the end of the ministerial round of the Geneva II international conference in Montreux on Wednesday, January 22.

“Our colleagues in Europe and the U.S. and the opposition, of course, are tempted to interpret the Geneva Communique solely in terms of changing the regime,” he said. Russia “accentuated the underlying principle of the Geneva Communique which calls for mutual consensus between the government and the opposition and notes the need to bring the whole array of Syrian forces into the process.”

“This has yet to be done. There is the understanding that other opposition groups have to be engaged in the course of the inter-Syrian talks. The internal opposition is not represented at the talks, and this is a complex process that is associated with the resolution of a number of political and practical tasks,” Lavrov said.


Russia’s partners, including the U.S., understand this need. “I’ve got the impression that our partners, including American ones, understand the need to solve this issue [engaging with the internal opposition for talks]. We believe that a very complex process has begun. But the very fact that the inaugural Geneva II meeting has been held sends a very positive signal,” the minister said.

“For the first time in the three years of the bloody conflict, which has created probably the direst humanitarian situation in the world, the Syrian sides have agreed to meet at the negotiating table despite their mutual recriminations. We hope very much that the U.N. special representatives, as mediators at these talks, namely Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, will do their best and use all their diplomatic skills and experience to not just keep the sides at the negotiating table but to help them come to mutual understanding step by step,” Lavrov said.

“Russian and American experts, as representatives of the Geneva II initiating countries, will be prepared to provide assistance and help move, step by step, towards a common position of the Syrian sides on how they will live in one country that must remain sovereign and territorially integral, and where all ethic and confessional groups should be free and equal,” he said.

Lavrov urged the United Nations to allow the internal Syrian opposition to take part in the conference.

“We supported and continue to support all leading Syrian groups that operate within Syria - the National Coordination Committee, the National Front for Change and Liberation, and Kurdish organisations. All of them sent written appeals to the U.N., as the organiser of the conference, so as to solve the question of their participation in this process. We will insist on the resolution of this issue so that their appeals were upheld,” Lavrov said.

He said U.N. officials had not provided detailed explanations why the internal Syrian opposition was absent from the talks. “I think there could have been no ideal situation in this respect as too many emotions had piled up on both sides. What is important is that the process has got off the ground,” he added.


Possible provocations

All sides should observe agreements during humanitarian operations in Syria, the Russian foreign minister said, adding that a number of obscure groups of militants are active in areas where fighting is underway.

“We should avoid finding ourselves in a situation when we announce a humanitarian action and then provocations start and everything may go downhill again,” Lavrov said.

He warned that this would play into the hands of those forces who try to frustrate the negotiating process.

Compromise on election

A compromise solution on the personalities and dates of election in Syria is possible solely on the basis of an agreement between the immediate parties to the Syrian conflict,Lavrov said.

“The only type of a compromise solution that’s possible - either on whatever personalities or on when the election is to be held or on any other issues - should be based on agreement between the parties to the Syrian conflict,” the minister said.

“To make these agreements steady and accomplishable, it’s important to settle the problem we’ve spoken about, namely, to ensure a truly authoritative character of the inter-Syrian dialogue but any decisions on it should be taken by the Syrians themselves,” he said.


Secular state

If the Syrian sides agree at the initial stage of their talks to preserve a secular state in their country, they will send an important signal to the international community, Lavrov said.

In his opinion, one should “move from the simple to the complex” in the talks. “There are no simple things in this situation. But less complex issues are confidence-building measures, such as humanitarian access, exchange of prisoners of war and through that creation of some relationship between the two delegations,” he said.

“As for the immediate tasks, I am pleased to note the growing understanding of the concept that we put forth and President Vladimir Putin spoke of on many occasions: the agenda of the inter-Syrian process should include first of all the question of what kind of country the Syrians would like to have and how much their vision would meet the expectations of the international community,” he said.

Lavrov noted that these expectations were based on key principles of international law: “sovereignty, territorial integrity, respect for the rights of minorities, and their equality in society.”

“If at the initial stage of the talks the sides can jointly make a call for building this kind of Syria, for preserving its multiethnic and multi-confessional nature, its secular nature, I think this all by itself will send an important signal,” Lavrov said.

He believes that such consensus would “create the critical mass for solving more complex issues.

Prisoner exchange

Russia, the United States and the United Nations are working on an agreement on a prisoner swap between parties to the Syrian conflict, the Russian foreign minister said.

“Prisoner exchange is one of the topics on the agenda,” Sergei Lavrov said. “It is a very important confidence building measure, if such an exchange succeeds.”

“Together with US colleagues and the UN we are working on the details of this possible step,” the Russian top diplomat said. “In practical terms, we need to agree lists, obtain lists from one party, obtain lists from the other party. We are dealing with it.”

Lavrov said he discussed the issue with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem when the latter was on a visit to Moscow last week, as well as with Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces during meetings in Paris and Montreux.

“The issue is very complicated because the destinies of specific people are involved,” he said. “Both sides have certain complaints about many of them, so an ideal solution should probably not be expected here,” the Russian foreign minister said.

“But we will try to take at least the first step. If we agree and carry out an exchange of at least small groups of prisoners, this will help strengthen trust,” Lavrov said. “Here again good will of all Syrian sides is important.”

Emotionless decisions

 Delegations of the Syrian government and opposition pledged “not to yield to emotions” and continue talks, Lavrov said.

“The Syrian government delegation assured us that they have come with serious intentions, that they want to conduct dialogue, discuss the entire range of problems Syria and the Syrian people are facing,” Lavrov told journalists.

Lavrov said he spoke to the leaders of both Syrian delegations - Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition leader Ahmad Jarba.

“Both of them assured me that they will try to hold talks with the aim to reach agreements,” he stressed, adding that Russia, the United States and the United Nations “have understanding that they will influence the parties so that they do not leave the [negotiating] table.”

The minister said that in order to promote the negotiating process, simple steps should be made first, including humanitarian aid deliveries and exchanges of captives.

Lavrov said that regarding the humanitarian situation in the city of Aleppo, “we have a feeling that the sides are ready to make specific steps to supply food and alleviate the situation the Aleppo residents found themselves in.” The situation near the city of Homs is also being discussed, he added.

Enlarging list of Geneva II participants

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for finding a formula that would allow Iran to participate in the Geneva II international conference on the resolution of the Syrian crisis.

“I talked with the majority of conference participants. None of them said that the present format of external actors is ideal,” Lavrov said at the news conference.

Lavrov said that members of many delegations had said, both privately and publicly, that Iran played an important role and had to take part in the Syrian settlement process.

“I think common sense will prevail [in this process],” Lavrov said.

He also believes that Kurds have to be brought into the negotiations. “I have read reports that a Kurdish autonomy was declared in the Qamishli area, but there were no statements that the Kurds were going to secede from Syria,” the minister said. “This is a serious signal to all of us so that we do not try to look for simplified approaches or create the impression that the present delegation of the Syrian opposition can solve all questions for all opposition forces. Kurds have to be brought into the negotiation process.”

“This is a part of our position and it has been met with understanding, but let me stress that the situation is too complex and multifaceted to be able to create ideal conditions in one go,” Lavrov said.

“All this is on the agenda. In parallel to the commencement of talks between the Syrian government delegation and the National Coalition we will press for enlarging the list of participants so as to ensure that the agreements are worked out and based on the support and understanding of different sections of Syrian society,” the minister said, adding, “This must indeed be a representative process in all respects.