Update : Syria peace meet begins | World | Ammon News



Update : Syria peace meet begins

* Reuters
* Reuters
[1/22/2014 11:23:37 AM]

Talks aiming to end crisis, bring rival sides together, but divided opposition and unwavering regime mar prospects.

Syrian peace talks is due to start in Switzerland, with events and comments preceding the official opening leave close to no hope of a major breakthrough, other than bringing President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition to the same table.

International diplomats and Syria's warring sides arrived for the crucial peace conference which kicks off in the town of Montreux on Lake Geneva on Wednesday, after months of wrangling that had threatened to derail the talks up until the last minute.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called upon all sides involved in Syria's bloody civil war to "seize the chance" for peace.

Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican which sent a delegation, said; "just the fact they are meeting and beginning to talk is something".

Other international officials were careful not to raise hopes.

"I don't think anyone who's dealt with Syrian officials has any false expectations of rapid progress," a senior US State Department official said.

"Everybody has to understand that this is the beginning of a process. It's not going to be fast. It's very bitter fighting on the ground. And so there's going to be an absolute requirement for patience and for persistence," the official added.

There were stark reminders of the Syrian conflict's impact in the run-up to the talks, with a bombing in Beirut that left four dead and new evidence alleging that Assad's forces have systematically killed and tortured thousands.

The Geneva 2 conference managed to override a diplomatic spat between allies of the Syrian regime and the UN over a last-minute reversal which saw the organisation's leader Ban Ki-moon withdraw an invitation to Iran, less than 24 hours after he had announced it.

Syria's opposition had threatened to boycott the talks if Iran, a key backer of the Assad regime, took part. West-backed opposition camp the Syrian National Coalition had threatened the same if Iran attended.

Untouchable presidency

This week's talks will be the most intensive diplomatic effort yet to resolve Syria's civil war, which after nearly three years has left 130,000 dead and millions forced from their homes.

Arriving for the talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem dismissed opposition demands for Assad to step down.

"The issues of the president and the regime are red lines for us and for the Syrian people," he was quoted as saying by the official SANA news agency.

"Nobody can touch the presidency," he said.

The talks have highlighted the deep divisions among the ranks of the opposition raising questions on how much is its 15-member delegations are representative Assad's opponents.

The biggest bloc in Syria's opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Council, said on Monday it was quitting the coalition because taking part in the talks would renege on its "commitments" to not enter negotiations until Assad leave power.

In an AFP interview published on Monday, Assad bluntly ruled out a power-sharing deal. He insisted the peace conference should focus on what he called his "war against terrorism".

U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon, who opened the Geneva II peace talks in Montreux on Wednesday, urged Syria's warring sides to seize the opportunity to resolve their conflict.

“After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of hope," Ban said.“You have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to render a service to the people of Syria,” he added.

“We know that it has been an extremely difficult path to reach this point. We have lost valuable time and many, many lives. Let me not mince words, the challenges before you and before all of us are formidable. But your presence here raises hope,” Ban said in his opening remarks.

During the peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the talks will not be simple neither will not be quick and that parties at the Syrian talks are facing “historic responsibility.”

Lavrov also called on “external players no to meddle in Syria’s internal affairs, while clarifying that the aim of the conference is to end the “tragic conflict” in the war torn country to prevent a spillover in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry said that the peace talks are the beginning in of “a tough, complicated negotiation to end the Syria war.”

Kerry also said in an opening statement that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not be part of any new transitional government.

"We need to deal with reality here...mutual consent which is what has brought us here for a transitional government means that that government cannot be formed by someone that is objected to by one side or not," Kerry said.

"That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transitional government. There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has lead the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern," he added.

Syrian defiance

Also during the U.N. backed talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Muallem accused countries who have imported terrorism in Syria to be attending the talks.

“Countries that have exported terrorism are sitting among us now,” Muallem said.

“These countries have preached to Syria with honor, while they soak in mud and backwardness,” Muallem added before arguing with U.N. chief seeking more speaking time on podium.

"These countries have used their petrodollars to export terrorism to Syria," he added, in an apparent reference to Gulf states, who have supported the Syrian opposition.

“I have the right to give the Syrian version here,” Muallem said, when he was confronted by Ban Ki-moon for speaking longer than the set speech time. The comment erupted into a brief bickering episode between the pair, as the Syrian delegate said he "promised" to speak only two more minutes, adding: "Syria always keeps it's promises."

Addressing John Kerry, the Syrian foreign minister said that no one outside the Syrian territory has the right to remove Assad from power.

Muallem also called the country's opposition “traitors” and foreign “agents,” in his remarks.

“They claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people,” Muallem said.

It was then Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, turn to talk. Jarba accused Assad of being responsible for war crimes in Syria.

He requested from the Syrian government delegation to sign the Geneva I communique which aims at transferring power away from Assad.

Jarba’s speech was broadcasted on Syrian state TV accompanied by videos titled “the crimes of the Syrian opposition.”

Before the conference kicked off, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said the peace talks were unlikely to be successful, according to the official IRNA news agency. Iran, a major backer of Assad, was univited to the conference by the U.N. chief this week following the Syrian opposition threatening to withdraw from the talks if Tehran attended.

“Because of the lack of influential players in the meeting, I doubt about the Geneva II meeting's success in fighting against terrorism ... and its ability to resolve the Syria crisis," Rowhani said.

“The Geneva II meeting has already failed without it even being started,” he added.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister s called for immediate ceasefires in Syria and the opening of humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to civilians.

Fabius said: “This terrible situation, which is killing thousands of innocent women, children and men, exists. We asked from the onset of this conference that one or more ceasefires are put into place and that humanitarian corridors are opened and medicines delivered.”

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad “bears a heavy responsibility in this situation but at the same time in the rise of criminal terrorism which it says it is fighting, but in reality is allied to,” Fabius added.

The U.N.-backed talks are set to bring on the same table representatives from the Assad government as well as the main opposition backed by the West.

On the eve of the conference, the situation in the war-torn country did not seem to calm down especially with the accusation by three former war crime international prosecutors that Assad’s regime has been "industrial-scale killing" and torturing detainees.

But the Syrian justice ministry on Wednesday slammed the report as "politicized," calling the shocking photos in the document "fake."

"The justice ministry completely denies the veracity of the report," Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.

"It is a politicized report that lacks objectivity and professionalism," the ministry said.

It is the first time that the Syrian regime and the opposition will meet since the beginning of the civil war which killed more than 130,000 dead and left millions displaced.


*Agencies

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