03/17/2016, 09.26
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Peace talks: Damascus says no to "direct" talks with opposition

The Syrian government representative excludes the possibility direct meetings with the HNC leader in the near future. Bashar al-Jaafari says they are terrorists and do not "adequately" represent opposition front. The UN special envoy de Mistura seeking a common ground for dialogue.

Geneva (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Syrian government representatives, engaged in the third day of United Nations sponsored peace talks in Geneva, have ruled out the possibility - in the near future – of "direct"  meetings with the opposition. Previously, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman, representing the largest rebel faction and supported by the Saudis, had declared a willingness for face-to-face negotiations. However, yesterday Damascus’ chief negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari nipped the possibility in the bud, calling the opposition terrorists.

At the end of the second meeting with the United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, Jaafari categorically ruled out the possibility of direct talks with the leader of the opposition,  negotiator Mohammed Alloush, a member of the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam. According to Damascus representatives Alloush belongs to a terrorist organization that has "bombed embassies" and "killed engineering students". He asked, without explaining, that the representative of the opposition " apologize for what he said earlier and withdraw". Finally, he questioned the legitimacy of the HNC, claiming it does not "adequately" represent all of the opposition.

Jaafari’s rejection of a face to face meetings shows how, in spite of initial progress, difficulties and resistance in negotiations remain strong. Analysts and experts believe that the Syrian government has been "burned" by Moscow's decision to begin the withdrawal of the "main part" of its troops on the ground. Government leaders claim it is a joint decision taken by Damascus and the Kremlin, but it is clear that the move came as a surprise to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy de Mistura has reminded both parties that the talks are now "urgent" for a number of very specific reasons. Among these the refugee crisis that has affected several countries in the region (Jordan and Lebanon above all) and has now also hit Europe, unable to propose appropriate solutions;  The aforementioned decision of Russia to demobilize part of its army on the battlefield; The presence, still firmly rooted on the ground, of the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS), which represent a threat to be defeated.

De Mistura also said that in the coming days, he will try to "digest" the written proposals presented in these first days of government and opposition talks in an attempt to find common ground for dialogue going forward. However, the task is still arduous and the future of President Assad remains the main obstacle to overcome, and on which so far any negotiation between the parties has stalled. The HNC states his resignation is essential for the beginning of a period of political transition; Damascus categorically rules out a transfer of power, calling the matter of the presidency a "red line" that cannot be surpassed.

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