As “Friends of Syria” gather in Paris in an attempt to drag the country's divided opposition into constructive talks with Bashar Assad, Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov flies in to meet the leader of the Syrian coalition - and hold talks with John Kerry.
The Friends of Syria group said that the only way for a political solution in Syria is for Geneva peace talks to take place.
“There is no solution to the Syrian tragedy apart from a political solution. And there is no possibility to achieve a political solution if Geneva 2 does not take place,” said French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius at a press-conference in Paris on Sunday.
The group unanimously adopted a communiqué on Sunday, stating
that the objective of Geneva 2 is to set up a transitional
government with full consecutive powers, he added.
The leader of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces said the decision is a “historical turning point.”
However, after that he slipped into his regular rhetoric.
“The most important aspect of today’s meeting is that we all agree to say that the Assad family has no future in Syria” said Ahmad Jarba.
“Removing Assad from Syria for the future has now been clearly established in a unanimous decision adopted by the group without the possibility for ambiguity” he stated.
The Friends of Syria also called on various groups of the Syrian
opposition to the Geneva 2 peace talks.
"We invite them to form, as soon as possible, a delegation of opposition forces to participate in the political process," the group said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Kerry said that he is “confident” the Syrian opposition will attend Geneva-2 talks.
However, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition did not give a clear confirmation during the meeting in Paris on whether the group will take part in the talks.The Coalition has said it will decide on the issue on January 17.
The head of Russia’s Foreign Ministry earlier said he was surprised by the West’s approach to the conflict.
“Our partners are blinded by an ideological mission for regime change,” Sergey Lavrov told Channel 1's Sunday Time program in September. “I am convinced that the West is doing this to demonstrate that they call the shots in the Middle East. This is a totally politicized approach.”
Lavrov arrived in Paris for a round of talks on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria meeting. Lavrov is set to discuss final formalities for the Geneva-2 peace conference, which is to start in ten days in Montreux, Switzerland.
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) January 12, 2014
Russia’s Foreign Minister also met with Jarba, who was re-elected as the leader of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, a Western-backed coalition, for a second six-month term the previous Sunday.
The Group of Friends of the Syrian People, or Friends of Syria, is an international collective meeting outside the UN Security Council over the Syrian crisis. Started by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the group by this time includes eleven core members with the US, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia among them. The meeting in Paris scheduled for January 12-13 will be held at the ministerial level.
During the meeting in Paris Lavrov said that Russia was not
indifferent to the fate of the Syrian people.
"I understand that you are primarily concerned about the fate of your homeland. We also care about the fate of the Syrian people," Itar-Tass reported him as saying.
Despite all the preparations, it remains unclear who will
represent the Syrian opposition during the January-22 forum.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said earlier it
was vital the opposition came to the negotiating table.
"I know that it is not an easy decision for the opposition in Syria," he said. "We want to work to convince them today in Paris and remove the last obstacles that may arise. We must get down to work in earnest. I fear that we will not be successful if we do not manage to include the opposition in these talks."
Political analyst Sharmine Narwani told RT that she predicts the external opposition will attend the talks.
“The Syrian external opposition that has been backed by foreign governments hostile to Syria’s president has spent the better part of two and a half years predicting, demanding and threatening Bashar Assad’s downfall. They boxed themselves in with this one repeated sole demand, so they find themselves in a very embarrassing position today. So I suspect they will come to Geneva, just spend their time on getting there to make it look like there is actual debate on the issue.”
Moreover, it is still to be seen if Iran will be invited to attend the talks. This after earlier statements by the US administration that it was unlikely to happen, and Iran indignantly refuting Washington’s conditions to be involved in the talks.
Iran will take part in the Geneva-2 peace conference if “invited without preconditions, to negotiate its presence," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said at a conference in Beirut international airport, adding: "We support any initiative aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis."
Russia has been insisting that Tehran should be part of the process. The issue is likely to dominate discussions on Monday between Lavrov, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Syria is experiencing a dramatic split between the opposition factions: between the main rebel Free Syrian Army and somewhat more extremist groups, frequently Al-Qaeda-linked.
In the past week alone, 700 people, including 85 civilians, were killed in the violence raging between rebel groups and an Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
UN Deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
has completed a two-day visit to Syria, holding meetings with the
country’s authorities and visiting a refugee camp near Damascus.
During the meetings Amos “discussed plans to build up humanitarian operations in 2014 to provide more assistance to those who need it."
She has also expressed concern about the situation in the cities besieged by government troops and opposition forces.
"I am particularly concerned about famine reports," she told reporters in Syria, stressing the need for taking measures to reduce the impact of violence on the civilian population. Among the measures already taken, she named the recent agreement on a ceasefire that allowed the evacuation of residents from Homs and Adra.
According to Amos, many Syrians are being forced to take refuge in abandoned buildings without access to drinking water and medicine. "We have to help them through this very cold winter," she said.
In December, Amos announced that UN organizations and partners will need $ 6.5 billion for humanitarian assistance in Syria in 2014. According to some reports, the number of Syrian refugees is expected to double this year to 4.1 million people.