Russia accuses Syrian opposition of sabotaging peace talks

Russia accuses Syrian opposition of sabotaging peace talks

Russia accuses Syrian opposition of sabotaging peace talks Russia accused the main Syrian opposition group at peace talks in Geneva of sabotaging the process on March 2, a day after Moscow’s Foreign Ministry officials met the rebels for rare talks on how to narrow their differences.

Backed by Western and Arab states and Turkey, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on March 1 to discuss what it says are Moscow’s broken cease-fire promises and put pressure on the Syrian government delegation.

“Unfortunately, we note that based on the results of the first few days the talks are once again raising questions about the ability of representatives of the Syrian opposition to do a deal,” Reuters quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as telling a news briefing in Moscow.

“The so-called High Negotiations Committee is refusing to cooperate equally with the Moscow and Cairo platforms and is in fact sabotaging fully-fledged dialogue,” she said, referring to two smaller opposition groups that curry favor in Moscow.

Despite a cease-fire nominally in force since late December - sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran - violence has escalated since the onset of the talks a week ago and the warring sides appear no closer to actual negotiations.  

The opposition’s lead negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters on March 1 that the meeting with Gatilov had been positive with a frank exchange on issues ranging from the cease-fire to political transition and fighting terrorism.

The opposition considers “political transition” as meaning Assad must hand over power. On March 1, they said that after hearing from U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, they believed that Russia had persuaded Syria’s government negotiators that a transition should be on the agenda of the talks.

Assad’s chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari has never accepted discussion of the subject before.

HNC said that terrorism cannot be added to the agenda of the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, as sought by Damascus.

“We will not deal with it, and if [de Mistura] adds it in any time we will not deal with it or discuss it,” HNC delegation chief Yehya Kodmani told reporters.

The issue has overshadowed the Geneva talks, in particular after a suicide assault in Syria’s third-largest city of Homs last weekend which killed dozens of people.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s spokesman said President Vladimir Putin was informed by the defense minister that Syrian government forces have taken control of Palmyra, with support from Russian warplanes.

Dmitry Peskov said Putin was given the report on March 2 by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, according to Russian news agencies. The reports did not give details or elaborate on the extent of Russian air support.