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25 May, 2013 17:45

Syrian opposition talks in stalemate as Geneva peace conference looms

Syrian opposition talks in stalemate as Geneva peace conference looms

Syrian opposition talks in Istanbul have so far failed to unite liberal leaders and Islamists of the Syrian National Council. The opposition risks being unable to present a coherent front at the forthcoming Geneva conference, making it irrelevant.

The two opening days of negotiations of the Syrian opposition have been fruitless as the Islamist-dominated Syrian National Coalition refused to admit liberal opposition leaders into its ranks.

Also, the opposition failed to elect a new leader of the coalition, which remains without a chief since the resignation of Moaz al-Khatib, a former Damascus religious leader, in March.

"We are back to square one,"
a source in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) told Reuters before the start of the third day of negotiations.

The source said the participants in the talks would now focus on international demands for a broadening of the Islamist-dominated group, leaving leadership issues for later.

Still, Syrian National Council representatives believe they could take part in the peace conference – if their central demand for President Bashar Assad to leave power is satisfied, Al Arabiya reports.

A member of the National Coalition of Syrian revolution and opposition forces, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib attends a meeting on May 23, 2013, in Istanbul. (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

In an interview to British BBC the Syrian National Coalition’s spokesman Louay Safi declared that President Assad and his associates must leave the scene. He says only this condition will be enough to make opposition participate in a peace conference.

“If the government will agree to the framework, yes [we will participate]. We have welcomed the Geneva agreement from day one. We would like to find a political solution. But we don’t want to be deceived again by this regime, which has deceived us many times,” Louay Safi said.

The spokesman has not specified, though, who would represent lawful authorities of Syria at a peace conference in that case.

Earlier Moscow informed the international community that Damascus had in principle agreed to take part in a peace conference in Geneva.

Another conference, the ‘Friends of Syria’ gathering that took place in Jordan’s Amman recently has brought nothing constructive to the peace process in the war-torn Syria either.

Representational assembly attended by eleven top diplomats from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the US issued a number of mutually exclusive statements.

On one hand the gathering declared it is seeking a political solution and a diplomatic breakthrough to solve the Syrian crisis. ‘Friends of Syria’ welcomed the Russian-American initiative to conduct new peace conference on Syria.

Diplomats pose after their Friends of Syria alliance meeting in Amman May 22, 2013 (Reuters / Muhammad Hamed)

Yet in a joint declaration on May 22, the 11 participant countries maintained that Syrian President Bashar Assad will play no role in the country's future. The declaration also stressed to bolster support for the armed opposition until a transitional government is formed.

“The participants (of the ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting), who have declared themselves spokesperson for the Syrian people, have blocked the way to the international conference by saying that they were going to boost support to the Syrian opposition,” Syria’s SANA news agency commented.

“Right now we see this process is making a negative contribution to the [Geneva] decisions,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Istanbul.

“When one party (Assad) is isolated in any mechanism set up to deal with a conflict, we miss the ground for dialogue,” he added.

After the ‘Friends of Syria’ gathering in Amman and opposition meeting in Istanbul both have failed to propose any constructive ideas how to put an end to the Syrian crisis, all eyes now are on the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who are going to discuss peace talks in Syria next Monday in Paris.

Russian diplomats, though, have voiced concerns that an international conference on Syria in Geneva cannot be conducted immediately because of the current status of the Syrian opposition.

"The demands to urgently set a concrete date for the conference in the absence of clarity regarding who and with what powers will speak on behalf of the [Syrian] opposition just cannot be treated seriously," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich at a press briefing in Moscow.

When Russian FM will meet his American counterpart next week, they will have to coordinate the list of participants of the future peace conference. However the question now is who among the Syrian opposition ranks would have authority to speak on behalf of all variegated opposition groups.