Syrian opposition reps want Saudi Arabia ‘disqualified’ from peace process – report

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Saudi Arabian meddling in a complex Syrian peace process will encourage extremism and raise tensions, said opposition delegates who met in Kazakhstan twice this year, Russia’s Sputnik agency reported citing a letter from Syrian opposition representatives.

“Saudi Arabia’s attitude since the start of the conflict and the fact that Saudi authorities have raised tensions between communities and encouraged the emergence of groups of extremist fighters should disqualify them from taking part in negotiations that will lead to peace in Syria,” the letter allegedly sent to the US Special Envoy for Syria, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the Russian Foreign Ministry stated.

READ MORE: Fractured Syrian opposition meets in Kazakhstan

In the letter seen by Sputnik International, Riyadh is being accused of cherry-picking delegates for its own opposition talks “under obscure conditions”. The, talks held in Riyadh earlier this month, brought together militant groups along with opposition politicians who had the backing of Saudi Arabia.

But Saudi Arabia failed to bring major players in Syria to the negotiating table. The People’s Party, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed force, the YPG, as well as other political parties, were not invited.

According to a letter from the so-called Astana Initiative’s Executive Committee, which includes some 70 representatives of the Syrian opposition, Saudi Arabia violated the Vienna principles, where 19 global and regional powers agreed to work towards setting up a nationwide ceasefire in Syria. The latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria reaffirmed the goals of the Vienna agreements.

Following the second round of talks in the Austrian capital, the delegates agreed to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the 2012 Geneva Communique. The international community also agreed to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under the UN’s watchful eye.

“We also want to stress the importance and necessity of including all representatives of the Syrian opposition standing against terrorism in any negotiations over the future of Syria on equal footing, without arbitrary exclusions, and without conferring special status on any political group,” the letter from the Astana group reads.

The result of the Riyadh conference that hosted more than 100 delegates, took the form of a 34-member council tasked with choosing 15 delegates to represent the Syrian opposition. But the participants also set a precondition for Assad to step down at the start of a “transitional period.”

Moscow, which has been working to bring peace to Syria for years, voiced concern over Saudi Arabian ambitions, stressing that the Riyadh conference not only far from representative of the entire Syrian opposition, but also featured delegates from openly extremist groups.

“We cannot accept the attempt by the group which met in Riyadh to assign itself the right to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier this month.

The foreign ministry voiced concern that Saudi Arabia invited some groups in the negotiations which it deems extremist, including Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), and Ahrar al-Sham, an ally of Al-Qaeda.

“We are still convinced that terrorists of all stripes should be excluded from the political process in Syria,” the foreign ministry said.

Moscow reiterated there should be no “preconditions” set for a political dialogue, as the meetings in Vienna already agreed that “only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Syria,” the ministry said, adding that the “agreements must be respected.”

Meanwhile the office of UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura announced that the target date for bringing Syria’s warring parties to the negotiation table in Geneva is set for 25 January, after the delegations are formed in the first weeks of 2016.