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7 May, 2013 19:58

Russia, US to push for global Syria conference to bring conflicting sides to table

Russia and the US reiterated their commitment to bringing the sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table, and have announced an international conference to be called by the end of May which will serve as a follow-up to the Geneva communiqué.

The Geneva communiqué should be a roadmap to a new Syria, not a forgotten piece of paper, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after their Tuesday Moscow meeting.

Moscow and Washington confirmed their commitment to the implementation of the principles set in the Syria peace plan – the Geneva Communiqué – including the territorial integrity of the conflict-torn country, Lavrov told journalists.

The countries’ chief diplomats have agreed that the June 2012 communiqué is “a vital tool” to end the bloodshed in Syria, to overcome the humanitarian crisis, and a means of preventing the use of chemical weapons in the region.

Russia and the US realize that the fulfilment of the Syria plan would require “mutual agreement” between the conflicting sides in Syria, Lavrov said. 

“We undertake an obligation to use the possibilities that the US and Russia have to bring both the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table. We will do so in partnership with other interested states which should demonstrate their commitment to help the Syrian people to find a political solution to the crisis as soon as possible and within the framework of the Geneva Communiqué,” he stated.

Bringing all sides to the table

One of the main results of the talks was the agreement to use all possibilities in the US and in Russia to start working with all the parties concerned both inside and outside Syria to hold an international conference, Lavrov said.

But in order for words to become actions, “we need to hear some word from the opposition side,” Lavrov added. “The opposition hasn’t said single word yet which would confirm its commitment to the Geneva communiqué and hasn’t named representatives charged to negotiate in the opposition name.”

Lavrov reminded that the opposition was extremely divided and that the Syrian National Council does not represent all of the groups. He stressed that it was very important to unite each and every group at the negotiating table.

“And when we hear the right words from the united opposition - given the fact that the Syrian regime has already voiced the right words - then we will try to transfer such words into actions.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discuss while taking a walk in the garden of the Foreign Ministry Osobnyak in Moscow on May 7, 2013 (AFP Photo)

Kerry’s first visit to Russia after he was appointed the Secretary of State comes just over a month ahead of the June G8 summit in Northern Ireland, where the Russian and American leaders are expected to meet for talks.

Barack Obama is looking forward to the upcoming meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Kerry said earlier in the day, during his talks with Vladimir Putin. The US leader would like to discuss with his Russian counterpart cooperation on Iran, North Korea and Syria, Kerry said.

The US administration believes that Washington and Moscow “have similar positions” on the settlement of the Syrian crisis since both states are interested in stability in the region, the Secretary of State told Putin.

The political solution for the Syrian conflict, the Geneva Communiqué, was endorsed on June 30, 2012 by the Action Group for Syria – which included Russia and the US. However, since then the bloody confrontation in the country has only worsened and, according to the UN, has claimed lives of over 70,000 people.

Transitional government without foreign interference

Russia and the US have been at odds over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. While Washington insists that Assad must step down, Moscow maintains that only Syrian people should decide on that and the issue should be resolved without foreign interference.

“It is impossible for me as an individual to understand how Syria could possibly be governed in the future by the man who committed the things that we know have taken place,” Kerry said, admitting that it’s not up to him to decide as the Geneva Communiqué says that the transitional government has to be chosen by mutual consent of the parties. 

“So what we are going to undertake to do is to try to get [the regime and the opposition] in a position where they, representing the people they represent in Syria, the interests they represent, put people into the transitional government by mutual consent.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov hold talks in the Foreign Ministry Osobnyak in Moscow on May 7, 2013 (AFP Photo)

Russia has repeatedly said that its stance on Syria arises from its concern for the Syrian people rather than the fate of Assad and that his forced departure would make the situation worse. Moscow insists that only direct talks between parties involved in the conflict – the government and the opposition – can help to resolve the ongoing crisis. It also criticized some players in the international arena for providing support and arming Syrian rebels.

Arming non-governmental players violates international law,” Sergey Lavrov said last week. “It's not the time to pour oil on the fire of the Syrian conflict. For all outside players it’s time to push all parties – the Syrian government and various opposition groups, political and military - and force them to announce a ceasefire and sit down for talks. Arming the Syrian rebels is betting on a military solution and not a political settlement.”

Chemical weapon concerns

Answering a question about a bill recommending arming Syrian rebels which has gone before Congress, Kerry hesitated for a few second before saying he thought ultimately the future of this bill would be determined “to some degree by the state of the evidence in respect to chemical weapons” and that the legislators would base their judgments on the evidence of the analysis ordered by President Obama.

Russia as well as the US is concerned about the possibility of chemical weapon use in Syria. “This is a very complex and challenging matter and we have to be 100 per cent sure we won’t get captive to rumors,” Lavrov said. 

Lavrov added that the countries have agreed on even closer contact between their special services in order to investigate the reality behind the reports of chemical weapon use in Syria.

Push for strategic stability

Apart from Syria, US-Russia relations have lately been frosty, despite the ‘reset’ announced in 2009, when Obama replaced George Bush in the White House.

The two nuclear powers still have not come to a compromise over a planned missile defense shield in Europe. During the talks, Lavrov said, special attention was paid to strengthening strategic stability in “all its aspects, which of course include the issue of ballistic missile defense as well as a number of other factors which along with nuclear weaponry increasingly affect the situation with strategic stability.”

There have also been differences regarding human rights issues. The US Magnitsky Act signed into law by Obama late in 2012 was followed by Russia’s ban on the adoption of Russian children by American families and, also, the so-called Guantanamo list.