The Syrian National Coalition says it will take part in the second round of Geneva 2 talks. Russia says the Syrian government expressed "no doubts" that it will also attend, adding that it plans to send a shipment of chemical agents out of the country.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba on Tuesday. Following the talks - which took place in Moscow and focused on the temporarily halted peace conference in Switzerland - Jarba confirmed to Russian media that the SNC will come to Geneva on February 10.
“We have agreed to take part in Geneva [peace] conference to fulfill the Geneva Communiqué…We have stated our intention to take part in the second round of talks on February 10,” Jarba said, as quoted by Interfax.
The Coalition has decided it must “follow the way of political settlement” of the Syrian conflict despite all odds during the first round of talks and the latest offensive from government forces on the ground, Jarba added.
The much-awaited and much-delayed Geneva 2 peace talks broke up with no sign of progress last week as the opposing sides repeatedly accused one another of being “terrorists,” failing to move forward even on humanitarian issues. The opposition’s demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad leave office – a move openly backed by Washington – was met with resistance from the government delegation.
However, Moscow expects Damascus to continue with the talks. According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, the Syrian government has “expressed no doubt regarding its participation in the next round of talks.”
Russia on Tuesday suggested that to move forward with the talks, the Syrian delegations should form specialized task groups on different issues, Gatilov stated.
“For every issue some concrete efforts are needed; some are easier solved, the other ones are tougher – for instance, the creation of interim government. But this does not mean that one should focus on a single problem and ignore the others,” Gatilov told RIA Novosti.
Such task groups should be Syrian-only, and while their work could be mediated by the UN, there can be no foreign meddling in the process, he said.
It is important to “fully implement” the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012, which includes “fighting terrorism, effecting ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian access and POW exchange,” Lavrov told Jarba, according to statements issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.
The SNC leader, however, said he believes that creating a transitional body is a top priority that will solve all other issues automatically.
“Formation of an interim government will solve all other disputable problems, including ceasefire and releases of the war prisoners,” Jarba assured, stating that the opposition has already prepared a list of candidates and expressed readiness “to be flexible and open for dialogue while discussing nominees.”
The Syrian parties have so far not reached an agreement on POW exchange. The opposition has failed to present a list of people they captured, though Damascus has already handed its list to the SNC, Gatilov said.
The Russian official also doubted that the Syrian opposition has any leverage to affect the actions of international terrorist groups fighting on the ground in Syria with the aim to create a Sharia law-based Islamic state.
Meanwhile, Jarba said the opposition refuses to discuss the problem of terrorism in Syria “while Assad is in power.” However, he told Russian journalists that the SNC does not recognize the Islamic Front - a major merger of Syrian rebel fighters formed in November - as a terrorist organization, and considers them “revolutionaries.”
The start of the Geneva 2 peace talks coincided with another wave of Western pressure against the Syrian government, with the US accusing Syria of deliberately delaying the delivery of its chemical weapons out of the country, as well as reportedly authorizing the delivery of some weapons to the opposition during a closed Congress session.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also asked Russia to press Damascus to speed up the completion of its international obligation, State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki said on Tuesday.
Gatilov replied to the US rhetoric by saying there was “no need to make a drama out of the situation with the disarmament.”
“Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1,” RIA Novosti quoted Gatilov as saying.
There are, however, some well-founded security related concerns, Gatilov added, saying that several provocations have already been attempted.
Russia is confident that Syria’s chemical arsenal will be destroyed by the June 30 deadline, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Reuters on Monday.