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Syrian opposition to attend Geneva talks if West keeps ‘humanitarian aid’ promises – SNC leader

Syrian opposition to attend Geneva talks if West keeps ‘humanitarian aid’ promises – SNC leader
The opposition will be represented at the upcoming Geneva 2 conference on a precondition that the West provides aid and ensures humanitarian corridors for their strongholds, said the president of the Western-backed Syrian opposition group.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, agreed to attend the long-awaited talks that would include a delegation of Bashar Assad, something that the opposition refused to do in the past.

Less than a week ago, Jarba said he would not attend Geneva 2 talks unless there was a clear agenda to force Assad to leave the office.

“We have decided not to enter Geneva talks unless it is with dignity, and unless there is a successful transfer of power with a specific timeframe, and without the occupier Iran at the negotiating table,”
Jarba told an Arab League meeting in Cairo.

But now when asked about his attendance by the British newspaper, Jarba replied: “Yes, but do you think we can sit with the regime whilst there are people in Syria who can’t even drink water? We have been promised by the West that these humanitarian issues will be solved before the conference.”

He said that Britain promised to provide “safe passage” of humanitarian aid at a London meeting of Friends of Syria held last month.

“In a closed meeting in London, John Kerry, Mr Hague and the other Friends of Syria ministers promised us that they would solve this issue before Geneva. They have not solved it yet,” he said. “We cannot go to Geneva when there are children without water, baby formula, bread and medicine.”

“We feel strange that countries sponsoring Geneva are unable to provide humanitarian access to besieged areas, yet at the same time say they will be able to provide a political solution,” Jarba added.

President of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Ahmad Jarba (C) and members attend a meeting of the National Coalition on November 9, 2013, in Istanbul (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

Humanitarian aid for opposition forces is absolutely necessary for Jarba to win support from numerous loosely associated brigades fighting on the ground in Syria, he told the Telegraph.

“Regarding those groups, if they saw that this brings real pressure by international community on the regime I don’t think they will reject Geneva,” he told the Telegraph.

“We are talking to many of them and when we explain the situation to them and they understand it in a better way, they don’t reject the political solution. But the superpowers have to help us also to convince those people by taking these steps.”

On Sunday the National Coalition will continue discussions in Istanbul about their participation in Geneva 2. During the previous meeting the coalition stressed that prior to announcing their decision they want the international community to apply more pressure on Damascus.

“We have always said that we are fully committed to Geneva. But we are worried that if we go there the Assad regime is not serious about the implementation of Geneva,” coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said on Saturday. “Everyone knows that the Assad regime is going to try to buy more time.”

AFP Photo

Asked when the group will make a decision whether or not to attend the negotiations, Saleh claimed that the coalition“hadn't received any invitation from the UN.” But the spokesman noted that there was no future for Assad in Syria once   transition will take place, claiming that Assad should stand a fair trial. 

“It has become obvious to anyone that there is no role for Assad if Geneva 2 is really to be applied, whether in the transitional period or after that.” 

“We want to go to Geneva but everyone has to be serious, not only the Assad regime but its allies. We want the Russians to apply real pressure on the Assad regime,” Saleh said in Istanbul, noting that Moscow was instrumental in negotiating the chemical weapons deal with Assad.

Clear declaration of participation required

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov expressed hope that the West will convince the opposition to take part in the conference. “Our partners have promised that they will work to ensure that the opposition clearly declares their participation in this conference,” the diplomat was quoted by Interfax as saying. “Let's wait for this, as without the consent of the opposition to take part, it is difficult, of course, to rely on success of the conference.”

At the same time Moscow believes that the opposition is not ready to participate in the Geneva-2 talks as some groups fighting on the ground continue to oppose any peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov said that the National Coalition cannot represent all group at the negotiations.

“The National Coalition claims to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. But it does not represent even the majority of opposition structures that oppose the regime the Assad regime,” Lavrov said Friday.

According to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, “there is doubt about the fact that all [opposition groups] genuinely want a political settlement,” adding that some fighters want to use force as means to resolve the conflict. “Unfortunately, there are external forces that fuel such sentiments, not only morally-politically but financially as well,” Interfax quotes.   

Reuters / Nour Fourat

Geneva 2 talks brokered by the US and Russia tentatively set to start November 23 have not yet officially been scheduled, although diplomats hope to kick start the round before the end of this year.

So far around 20 rebel groups have refused to take part in the negotiations, including the Syrian National Council. Some groups have even threated those delegations that are planning to attend.

“We announce that the Geneva 2 conference is not, nor will it ever be, our people's choice or our revolution's demand,"
said Ahmad Eissa al-Sheikh, chief of the Suqur al-Sham Brigade, AFP reports.

“We consider it just another part of the conspiracy to throw our revolution off track and to abort it,”
he said, adding that actions of those choosing to disobey this recommendation would be viewed as “treason” and result in the groups having “to answer for it before our courts.”

“It is outrageous that some of these extremist, terrorist organizations fighting government forces in Syria are starting to make threats,”Sergey Lavrov said late October. “The threats are directed at those who have the courage to attend the “The threats are directed at those who have the courage to attend the proposed Geneva conference being offered by Russia and the United States with the entire world's support.”