The peace conference in Switzerland, which is meant to bring down the Syrian government and opposition, began with condemnatory speeches and a bitter argument between the head of the UN and the Syrian delegation.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem used the opportunity of the gathering in Montreux to criticize the Syrian National Coalition, a Turkey-based West-supported organization, which is also participating in the conference and is supposed to be the prime representative of the opposition.
Muallem painted a bleak picture when describing the many perils the Syrian people are currently enduring, while accusing some foreign nations, including Turkey, of supporting terrorists in Syria. But the coalition - which mostly consists of self-exiled Syrians who have not been in the country for years - was the subject of particular scorn.
As the minister was blasting the SNC for selling their allegiance to the highest bidder and enjoying a comfortable life in five-star hotels while people died on the ground in Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon interrupted the speech, asking whether he needed much time to wrap it up.
A bitter debate between Ban and Muallem followed, as the Syrian minister insisted that he should keep the floor longer.
“You live in New York, I live in Syria,” Muallem said. “Let me tell our version of the story. You’ve spoken for 25 minutes. I need at least 30.”
Ban returned the floor to Muallem, only to interrupt him again a dozen minutes later. After a few additional minutes, he wrapped up the statement.
Muallem’s speech was a confrontational one, and Ban said he hoped that SNC head Ahmad Jarba, who spoke next, would be less antagonistic. This did not eventuate.
Jarba branded Syrian President Bashar Assad a terrorist and accused him of facilitating the rise of Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in the country. He made it clear that the coalition is unwilling to deal with Assad and sees his resignation is the goal of the gathering.
The opposition leader’s statement went along the lines of that of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke earlier and said in unambiguous terms, that Washington does not imagine a place for Assad in the future transitional government of Syria.
It appears that negotiators will be fighting an uphill battle to bring the parties in the conflict to any agreement.