The Syrian government on Saturday said it would send a delegation to Geneva to take part in UN-sponsored peace talks, though it ruled out discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s position.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem confirmed his government's participation in UN-led talks but said they would fail if the opposition had "delusions that they will take power in Geneva that they failed to take in battle".
The government delegation would reject any attempt to include presidential elections on the agenda, he said, referring to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s call for elections to be held in the next 18 months.
"We will not talk to anyone who talks about the position of the presidency." Moualem said during a televised news conference in Damascus. "I advise them that if this is their thinking, they shouldn't come to the talks."
"They must abandon these delusions."
Moualem said the government delegation would travel to Geneva on Sunday but would return to Damascus within 24 hours if the other side did not show up.
He said the Syrian government's understanding of "political transition" involved the participation of some members of the opposition in the existing government – and no more.
‘Stopping Geneva before it starts’
The Syrian opposition wants the talks to focus on the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, and has rejected the idea of joining an expanded Syrian government.
In response to Moualem's comments, the main opposition council accused Damascus of halting the talks before they had started.
"I believe he is putting the nails in the coffin of Geneva, this is clear," Monzer Makhous, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told Al Arabiya Al Hadath TV.
"Moualem is stopping Geneva before it starts."
The foreign minister also said the government was committed to a "cessation of hostilities" agreement brokered by the United States and Russia that has reduced the violence in western Syria since it came into effect two weeks ago.
He criticised the UN’s Syria envoy, saying neither he nor anyone else had the right to talk about presidential elections in Syria and demanding "neutrality and objectivity" on his part. He also rejected the idea of a federal solution to the war.
Syria's conflict began five years ago with mostly peaceful protests calling for political reform. A brutal government crackdown led to the rise of an insurgency and a full-blown civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half the country's population.
"We are optimistic that we have begun to come out of the crisis," Moualem said, referring to recent battlefield advances by government forces with the support of Russia, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group. He also cited local amnesty deals reached with some rebels.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile said the UN-sponsored peace talks should go ahead Monday as planned, but that Russian and US monitors are meeting first to discuss alleged cease-fire violations.
Kerry, speaking in Saudi Arabia, said he hoped for a telephone conversation Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about accusations that Assad's government is violating the ceasefire. He said Russian and US officials are also meeting Saturday in Geneva and Amman.
Asked whether the peace conference could go ahead Monday, Kerry said, "Yes it can."
Kerry is due in Paris for talks on Sunday with European diplomats about Libya, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2016-03-12