Syrian opposition conditionally agrees to talks

Photo: AFP

Syria's main opposition alliance on Monday announced it was ready to attend planned peace talks in Geneva. But the coalition stuck with a precondition that President Bashar al-Assad should have no role in Syria's future.


After days of talks that stretched into the early morning hours Monday, Syria’s main Western-backed opposition agreed to attend planned peace talks in Geneva – if a number of conditions are met.

Following a vote early Monday in Istanbul, the Syrian National Council (SNC) released a statement repeating the opposition’s long-held demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.

France 24's Jasper Mortimer in Istanbul

“Bashar al-Assad will have no role in the transitional period and the future of Syria,'' said the statement.

Reporting from Istanbul, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said there were two other preconditions to the SNC’s participation in the Geneva talks.

“The first one is humanitarian access. The [Syrian] government must allow food and medicine to get through to the communities trapped in a warzone and allow them to evacuate their wounded. Secondly, the government must release all detainees, particularly women and children,” said Mortimer.

But the key sticking point, Mortimer noted, is that Assad “must accept the London communiqué, which was issued last month”.

The London communiqué was issued following the October 2013 meeting of the so-called “London 11” – which includes the US, France, Britain, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The text of the agreement states that a transitional governing body should be set up and that Assad should have no role once this body is established.

The SNC agreement came a day after community elders from the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya said they managed to negotiate a temporary lifting of a government blockade to allow some food supplies into the area, which has been under a siege for a month.

A number of suburbs of the Syrian capital have been particularly hit by the civil war, with aid groups warning that millions of Syrians are in desperate need of humanitarian relief as the conflict continues to wreck a deadly toll. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 and millions have been displaced, according to the UN.

SNC stuck between a rock and a hard place

Monday’s agreement by the SNC to participate in “Geneva II” – as the talks are known in diplomatic circles – followed weeks of intense pressure by Western countries to get an agreement from the fractured Syrian opposition.

But as Assad continues to gain the upper hand in the conflict, Mortimer noted that the SNC has been stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“The West sees this conference as the only way to stop the slaughter,” said Mortimer. “At the same time the coalition has to face the fighters in the field who reject any negotiations with the government until Assad agrees to step down.”

But that scenario looks increasingly unlikely in a country that has been ruled by the Assad family for more than 40 years.

Assad’s government has rejected any preconditions for the conference in Geneva.

Last month, Assad told a Syrian TV station that he saw “no obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential election”.

Reporting from Istanbul, Mortimer said that “elements in the West will be disappointed by the [SNC’s] conditions, thinking that the [opposition] coalition has raised the bar too high”. But, he noted, “The fact is that these conditions were essential to hold the coalition together.”

No date has been set as yet for Geneva II. UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has said he would meet US and Russian diplomats on November 25 to try to make arrangements for the much-awaited talks.



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