Syria peace talks start with uncertainty over the process
AFP photoLong-anticipated peace talks that are projected to help bring an end to a five-year-old war in Syria finally started in Geneva on Jan. 29, albeit with many issues left uncertain and unexplained.
Efforts to bring all the sides to the negotiation table continued all day during Jan. 29, after the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) announced that it would not attend the talks until assurances from the U.N. chief on the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to humanitarian issues occurred.
U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura began by meeting Damascus’ delegation, which is headed by the country’s U.N. envoy, Bashar al-Jaafari, according to de Mistura’s spokeswoman, Khawla Mattar. She said he would later meet other participants in the talks, including NGOs.
The opposition boycott is a blow to the U.N.’s first attempt in two years to bring representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and his opponents together for talks on ending the devastating five-year war.
The HNC, which wants itself to be the sole representative of the Syrian opposition to sit at the table across the Syrian regime, had met in Riyadh earlier on Jan. 28, to decide that the opposition group would not attend the negotiations in Geneva until an agreement is reached on aid entering besieged towns.
The committee was formed in December 2015 when the main Syrian political opposition and armed factions came together in the Saudi Arabian capital for an unprecedented bid at unity, after months of Saudi efforts.
Riyad Hijab, coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, said aid access was a precondition of the group attending.
“Tomorrow we won’t be in Geneva. We could go there, but we will not enter the negotiating room if our demands aren’t met,” he told Al-Arabiya television.
Meanwhile, Turkey has voiced its readiness to exert all efforts to persuade members of the Syrian opposition to participate in U.N.-mediated peace talks.
“The opposition is resuming its discussions at the moment. We hope that they make a decision to participate. We are also encouraging them to participate,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters late on Jan. 28 ahead of an official visit to Saudi Arabia.
“We are also keeping tabs in order to make sure that these justified demands of the opposition are met by the U.N. We hope that the table is set under convenient conditions as soon as possible and, most important of all, humanitarian aid reaches everybody in Syria and a new era begins in Syria. As Turkey, we are ready to make all kinds of contributions to this aim,” Davutoğlu said.
On the eve of the talks, de Mistura appealed to Syrians to make concessions and described the talks as “an opportunity not to be missed.”
“Five years of this conflict have been too much. The horror is in front of everyone’s eyes,” de Mistura said in a video message, according to AFP. “You must know also that we count on you to raise your voice to say ‘khalas’ [‘stop’ in Arabic].”
The Geneva negotiations will not be a face-to-face conversation between the regime and its opponents.
Instead they are “proximity talks” when go-betweens shuttle between the different participants.
They are part of an ambitious plan launched in Vienna in November 2015 by a raft of key actors including Russia, the United States, Gulf states, Iran and Turkey that foresees elections within 18 months.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s director general for the Middle East, Can Dizdar, will be in Geneva to follow the negotiations, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.