UN urges Russia, US to resume Syria peace talks


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on the third anniversary of Syria’s civil war, appealed to the US and Russia to get the Syrian parties back to the peace table.

“The Secretary-General appeals to the region and the international community and in particular to the Russian Federation and the United States, as the initiating States of the Geneva Conference on Syria, to take clear steps to re-energize the Geneva process,” a spokesman for Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement Wednesday.

UN Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to brief the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday and the full UN General Assembly on the Syria diplomatic track on Friday, a UN spokesperson told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

As to officials saying Brahimi had recently threatened to the Russians to quit if they wouldn’t press the Assad regime to discuss political transition, there were few signs in Ban’s statement Wednesday that the veteran Algerian diplomat is planning an abrupt exit. “Working with Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, the Syrian sides and regional and international actors must act now to bring the tragedy in Syria to an end,” Ban’s statement said.

The situation, however, is still “unclear,” a western diplomat said Wednesday.

It’s “still a work in progress as to how we would get to round three, but efforts continue,” the western diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Wednesday. The “key is to get [the] regime to commit to discuss not only terrorism, but [the Transitional Governing Body] TGB as well.”

France on Wednesday circulated a draft UN Security Council press statement that would call for fully backing Brahimi’s efforts, including holding simultaneous discussions on both political transition and ending terrorism and violence.

“The members of the Security Council expressed full support to the agenda of four points submitted by the Joint Special Representative for the resumption of the talks: violence and terrorism; transitional governing body; national institutions; national reconciliation and national debate,” the draft UNSC press statement states. “They also expressed their support for M. Brahimi’s approach for dealing with the first two points in parallel and emphasized the need for genuine engagement on the creation of a transitional governing body.”

At the last round of Syria peace talks in Geneva last month, the Syrian regime side said it would only talk about stopping terrorism and violence, and refused to agree to put political transition on the agenda. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, at a meeting with Brahimi and  US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on the sidelines of the Geneva talks last month, reportedly said it would not press the Syrian side to discuss a political transition upfront.

It’s unclear if the Russians, or Syrian regime, have changed their position since then.

The head of the Syrian regime delegation to Geneva, briefing an assembly last week, suggested they had not been unwilling to talk about a political transition at some point.

“Syria’s delegation was not afraid to discuss the transitional government, especially that we had a legal study on the topic,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the Syrian People’s Assembly, Syrian state news agency SANA reported March 5. If “Brahimi tenders his resignation with no invitation extended to a new conference in Geneva, ‘then this might logically lead to two options: A continuation of the armed forces’ achievements in sync with continuing dialogue with all components of the Syrian community and the national opposition, and encouraging local reconciliations underway in several areas for them to be generalized across the country.”

Despite no progress from the first two Geneva rounds of talks, there are signs of interest from both the Syrian regime and opposition sides to continue, or reluctance at least to have them totally collapse, amid conflicting public statements, western officials said.

“After the setback in Geneva II, and the shameful invasion of Yabroud…there is no place for diplomacy or political solutions,” Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmed Jarba told the Arab League last week (March 9). “The regime’s only response to all the positive gestures we have made in Geneva was to reject the political solution; to fire tank shells, and to drop more barrel bombs on innocent civilians. …. The only language they understand is the language of force, and we cannot repel them except by force.”

But some Syrian opposition advisors think the Geneva process could deepen fissures within the Syrian regime, and thus that it is to the opposition’s advantage to continue with them.

“Senior regime officials in Assad’s inner circle are extremely nervous about the prospects of additional rounds of negotiations in Geneva,” Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American advisor to the Syrian opposition, told Al-Monitor. “Beneath what seems to be a calm surface, there is significant churn within Assad’s inner circle.”

“The longer Geneva discussions go on, the greater the likelihood that cracks will deepen and start spreading within a much more fractious Assad regime than people realize,” Shahbandar said.

(Reuters photo.)

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