Russian FM says it would be ‘unfair’ to hold Syria peace talks without Syrian Kurds
AFP photoIt is impossible to reach a peace agreement in Syria without inviting Kurds to take part in the negotiating process, as it would be “unfair” and “counter-productive,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Jan. 26.
It would be “unfair” and “counter-productive” to stop Syrian Kurds from taking part in the peace talks, Lavrov said at his annual news conference, according to Reuters.
“Without this participant [Syrian Kurds] the talks cannot achieve the result that we want, [which is] a definitive political resolution in Syria,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by AFP, adding, however, that it was up to U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to decide which opposition groups to invite to the talks.
Lavrov’s quotes came a few days before the start of U.N.-brokered Syria peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 29, which were originally scheduled to start on Jan. 25 but were delayed over the decision on which rebel forces would join the opposition at the negotiation table.
One of the areas of dispute in this regard was Turkey’s opposition to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) being a part of the opposition forces.
Syrian Kurds needed to be a part of the peace process to end the civil war, but those treating the PYD as a legitimate partner “do not live in the reality of the region,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Jan. 25.
Lavrov also warned against Saudi Arabia’s proposal to invite only opposition groups which it hosted at a meeting last month, saying the Syrian peace process should also include other opposition representatives, like those which met for talks in Moscow last year, the Associated Press reported.
He noted that he “highly values” his cooperation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in helping pave way for the talks.
Russia’s involvement in Syria ‘helped turn around the situation’
Lavrov said air strikes by the Russian military in support of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have helped turn the tide in Syria.
“The actions of the Russian air force, in response to the request of the Syrian leadership, have really helped to turn around the situation in the country [and] helped towards reducing the territory controlled by terrorists,” Lavrov said.
Russia began a bombing campaign in September last year to back up those fighting for its longstanding ally al-Assad. Last year its pilots carried out more than 5,000 sorties.
The West has accused Moscow of mainly targeting moderate rebels fighting the al-Assad regime, as well as inflicting civilian casualties, but Moscow insists it is tackling “terrorist” groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Forces backing al-Assad have recently made several key gains on the ground.
Regime forces backed by several dozen Russian air strikes overnight captured the rebel stronghold of Sheikh Miskeen close to the border with Jordan, the British-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Jan. 26.
This came two days after forces loyal to al-Assad and regime troops took control of Rabiya, near the border with Turkey, and one week after the same forces retook Salma, also in northwestern Syria and close to the Turkish border.
Lavrov said some participants in the Syria peace process had been “capricious” by refusing to negotiate.
“When there are attempts to put conditions on the collective fight against terrorism, conditions that are irrelevant, such as ‘if you agree to a regime change, for example, in Syria, then we will for real begin to fight terrorism collectively’... that is, I believe, the biggest mistake,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters.
Lavrov denies Assad asking for asylum
Russia’s top diplomat also denied reports that Russia had asked long-time ally Assad to step down and offered him political asylum.
“This is not true,” Lavrov said of media reports that Russia’s late military intelligence chief Igor Sergun had travelled to Syria to ask Assad to resign.
“No one asked for political asylum and no one offered anything of the kind.”