12/04/2017, 19.28
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UN-led Syria peace talks undermined by Saudi diktats

Syrian government representative al-Ja’afari rejects Riyadh and all those who want Assad’s exclusion. The latest round of talks in Geneva ended without results. Saudi-backed opposition has no real representativeness on the ground. Hope for a new peace plan might come from the mediation of Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Sochi and Astana.

Geneva (AsiaNews) – The Syrian government envoy to UN-backed peace talks in Geneva told al-Mayadeen TV that Saudi Arabia’s backers and supporters do not want a political solution to the conflict.

The strongly worded statement by Bashar al-Jaafari followed a statement by the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defending Syria’s moderate Islamic armed rebels.

Al-Jaafari reminded Haley the “price of a woman of her age was around 40 dollars at the slave markets run by Syria’s so-called moderate rebels in Syria”.

Still, despite the criticism he expressed in the interview, al-Jaafari stressed that the eighth round of UN meetings in Geneva (Switzerland) "was useful". How useful? That is an open question since the talks appear to be another failure.

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura held separate talks with the various delegations, failing to get the two sides around the table. The reason? The pre-conditions set by opposition delegation created in Riyadh (where certain previous delegates were not included), which raised the ante by demanding the exclusion of the president Bashar al-Assad.

Initially, the Syrian government delegation had decided not to participate, refusing to sit down with people making demands that no longer correspond to the current geo-political and geo-strategic situation. Syrian government forces have in fact defeated the Islamic State group and now control 80 per cent of the country’s territory.

To persuade the Syrian government delegation to participate, de Mistura said that the removal of the Syrian president was “out of the question” and that the two delegations would not meet around the same table.

For Al-Ja’afari, who arrived in Geneva from New York, the fact that de Mistura had not objected to the opposition’s proposal was “a step backward”. Making matters worse, De Mistura “had praised for three times the monstrous communiqué that came out of the Riyadh 2 meeting.”

According to Al-Ja’afari, “instead of praising the Saudis the UN special envoy should have told them that they were putting at risk the peace talks in Geneva.”

This explains the harsh language of the Syrian government representative, who called the communiqué inadmissible, saying that it must be “withdrawn” before talks can resume in Geneva.

At the same time, the representativeness of the so-called Riyadh delegation – as opposed to those in Cairo, Istanbul and others – remains an open question, since it is made up of people living abroad in luxury hotels, without links to what is happening in the country, and is far from representing the various opposition groups, as called for in Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council.

Staffan de Mistura himself admitted the situation, telling the head of the Syrian government delegation that the opposition delegation was not really representative, but was all they had. For his part, al-Ja’afari said there are “no faits accomplish in diplomacy and Syria was not a country to take or leave.”

Al-Ja’afari’s interview shows a rift between the Syrian diplomat and de Mistura. For the former, the UN envoy has “failed in his role as a mediator” by trying to impose a set of principles not presented beforehand to the Syrian government.

The latter closely reflect the controversial communiqué issued at Riyadh 2 and modifies the content of previous statements, like the one issued after the seventh round of talks in Geneva, which calls for the “maintenance of the Syrian army”. As an example of the subtle differences between the two, the new statement calls instead for the “creation of a new Syrian army”.

Likewise, Al-Ja’afari noted that de Mistura wanted to discuss the second and third phases even before discussing the first, when in fact discussions held so far were centred on process, not substance.

The Syrian government representative also did not mince his words over the international community, calling their intentions “dishonest”. He cited as an example the failure of the international community, especially Western powers, to condemn the Islamic State when a few days ago it burnt a Syrian pilot held hostage. The killing is similar to that of a captured Jordanian pilot, whose fate outraged the world.

For Al-Ja’afari, what is the difference between a Jordanian and a Syrian pilot, “both killed by the same method and the same executioner? Why is that when it involves a Syrian, the news is met with silence and indifference”.

Meanwhile, the Syrian delegation went home over the weekend to inform Syrian President Assad and his government about the talks, which cannot continue until “the Riyadh statement is not withdrawn.”

Al-Ja’afari said the opposition statement was a kind of “mine” on the road to Geneva and the opposition had purposefully undermined the talks.

Now attention will turn to Sochi or Astana, where mediation by Russia, Iran, and Turkey seems to be more realistic and could save the Geneva process, giving it renewed impetus. (PB - DS)

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