In the run up to the Geneva 2 talks, the opposition’s wavering over whether to attend the peace conference is fueled by their foreign backers who want to rip Syria apart, says Bouthaina Shaaban, a top political and media adviser to President Bashar Assad.
The second Geneva conference on Syria is scheduled to begin January 22 in Switzerland, although it remains to be seen if those parties seeking to topple the government of Bashar Assad will attend.
Shaaban says that while the Syrian government’s longstanding support for the peace talks reflect the governments unwavering commitment to stopping bloodshed in the country, the motivations of the opposition remain far less clear.
RT: The ball's now in the opposition's court. How do you expect them to react to the offers from Damascus?
Bouthaina Shaaban: What we expected from the beginning and what we expect now is to put the interest of the Syrian people and the interest of Syria above everything else and to care about Syria rather than play into agendas of other parties who actually from the beginning of the crisis have really been very intent on destroying Syrian institutions and on doing so much kidnapping and killing. So we don’t want to look back, what we want to do is to try and save our people from so many massacres, so mush bloodshed, to try and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
RT: The Syrian National Coalition hasn't even decided whether to attend the Geneva 2 conference yet. Why are they so divided on this?
BS: I think the divisions are [there] because, first of all, the parties were living outside Syria for so many years, they are the kind of Syrians abroad who don’t know what the Syrian people are going through. Second, I think because of the source of finance. Many of them are receiving finances from different parties. But everyone who lives with the Syrian people, who wants the interest of Syrian people to be above everything else, would give the outmost priority to stopping this terrorism destroying the life of the Syrian people, women and children, causing the destruction of Syrian cities andinfrastructure. I believe it’s a question of what is the priority: is it the Syrian people and Syria, and its territorial integrity or it is some personal interests and being an ally for other forces who obviously right from the beginning of the crisis want to destroy Syria?
RT: The Syrian government is offering a ceasefire in Aleppo – why only now, though? Surely this could have been done earlier?
BS: It’s not a ceasefire, because a ceasefire is used between two armies, two people; it’s a kind of security arrangement. Russia and the US have announced to parties what they would like to do is to have a kind of pilot project, if you want. We are approaching Geneva, we are trying to reach a political solution for the crisis. We have been trying for all these years to stop the bloodshed and the killing, and to initiate a political process.
If you remember Geneva 1 was agreed upon on June 30, 2012, but it is as ever the opposition and the countries and the forces who are supporting the opposition who cannot reach the agreement. I mean, even now the opposition says: “We will decide today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow whether we go to Geneva 2,” while the Syrian government has announced a month ago the names of its delegation that is ready to go to Geneva because we live in Syria, we care for the Syrian people, we want to end the bloodshed in Syria. That is because we are responsible people. But as for the others, I don’t know what their priorities are.
RT: The US has said there's no place for Assad in Syria's future. Do you think Washington is likely to soften its stance at the Geneva 2 talks?
BS: May I draw your attention that there is some contradiction in what they said and announced. They accept Geneva 1. Geneva 1 says that everything reached between the parties has to be reached by consensus. This means that the Syrian parties during the conference have to agree on the steps to be made, and the US cannot say: “Assad has no future,” because this is contradictory to Geneva 1 and it is contradictory to what Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov and other ministers have agreed upon on June 30, 2012, on the basis of which everybody is going to Geneva 2.
RT: Syria has accused the US of supporting terrorists in Syria. What evidence is Damascus basing these accusations on?
BS: This came as a response to what John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of Egypt said in Kuwait, that Syrian government is destroying schools and hospitals. We ask them to provide evidence, because I think the one who is the author of accusations has to provide the evidence. You know Syria is one of the countries in the world that has free education and a free medical health service. We fight so hard to keep our institutions and we complained to the world about the terrorists destroying our hospitals and schools, so it is absolutely ironic and unbelievable that someone should say that Syrian government is the one who is destroying the schools and hospitals. They should come up with evidence when they utter an accusation, and the accusation was directed to us. We are asking them for the evidence.
RT: Russia has said moderate opposition groups within the warzone should also be invited to Geneva. Has the Syrian government been negotiating with those moderate groups to make them involved?
BS: We have many moderate groups in Syria. We have about 20 opposition political parties but unfortunately the UN did not invite any of them. By the way, we are not here referring to the Islamic Front, because it is not moderate at all. Although it has been portrayed by Saudi Arabia and by the US that it is moderate in comparison to Djaish and Jabhat Al-Nusra. They are all in the same boat, they all kill, kidnap, destroy institutions. What we are referring to is a political opposition both in Syria and outside Syria who should be invited to Geneva 2, but unfortunately, I don’t know what are the criteria that the UN has for inviting opposition people to Geneva 2. I think you have to direct some questions to Lakhdar Brahimi or the UN to ask them what are their criteria for inviting Syrian opposition to Geneva 2.
RT:The global chemical weapons watchdog says Syria may not be able to meet the June deadline for giving up all of its toxic arsenals – why is the process falling off track?
BS: I think they said that it may not be able, they didn't say it's not meeting its deadline. I think all international organizations are acknowledging that Syria is trying its best to meet the deadline, with the help of Russia, of course, to meet deadlines and get rid of chemical weapons as we promised and agreed and as we said. But the problem is that there are some leaks that are being given to terrorists groups inside Syria, who are targeting chemical cargo on the way to the sea. And I think the forces who are leaking this information should stop leaking this information. Syria has always been a country that has honored its word, its agreement and its signature. And we've just been in a meeting with Mr. Sergey Lavrov and we told him that we are absolutely ready to coordinate our efforts with Russia day by day in order to fulfill our commitments in getting rid of these chemical weapons as we promised that we shall and we will. Don't listen to the media, they promote so many false things, as they did on August 21, 2013, accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons. And now even scholars, the CIA, have acknowledged that it was a lie and unfounded information to accuse the Syrian government.
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