Posts Tagged ‘Ramzi Ramzi’

Little prospect of Syria peace progress in Geneva talks

November 27, 2017

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Syria — A man stands on the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Mesraba in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, November 26, 2017. Reuters photo

By Angus McDowall

BEIRUT (Reuters) – A breakthrough in U.N.-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva this week seems no more likely than in seven earlier rounds as President Bashar al-Assad pushes for total military victory and his opponents stick by their demand he leave power.

A Syrian newspaper reported on Monday that the government delegation would delay its planned Tuesday arrival in Geneva because of the opposition’s insistence that Assad step down.

The stance is seen by Damascus and its allies as divorced from reality after their steady march of victories since Russia entered the war in 2015. The rebels have been forced from all Syria’s big cities and their hopes of toppling Assad by military means look finished.

The opposition has also accused the government of refusing to seriously engage.

“The Assad regime must not be allowed to play for time while people are being besieged and bombed,” said Yahya al-Aridi, head of the opposition’s negotiating committee, on Sunday.

Last week a senior Assad adviser said talks could only succeed if rebels laid down their arms. Over the weekend, air strikes on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta district near Damascus intensified, killing 23 on Sunday, according to a war monitor.

“You cannot expect very much,” said Nikolaos Van Dam, a former Dutch diplomat in Damascus and author of two books about Syria.

“The regime doesn’t want to really negotiate. They want to reconquer every inch of Syrian territory and then negotiate. But then the opposition would have no bargaining chips,” he said.

Russia has pushed its own parallel track of diplomacy since early this year, bringing together Assad’s other main ally Iran, as well as Turkey, which has been one of the rebels’ biggest supporters.

Russia has elections next year and President Vladimir Putin wants to show progress towards a political deal after two years of fighting far from Russian soil. Moscow has already said it will bring many troops home from Syria by the end of the year.

But Putin may also seek to tout diplomatic progress as he angles for Western countries to take up some of the expensive burden of post-war reconstruction in Syria, now most likely to fall on Russia, Iran and China.

Western foreign ministers said in September their support hinges on a “credible political process leading to a genuine political transition”, a process they have said requires the involvement of the opposition.

“Russia wants the end of the war but it wants its ally intact. So what would be the compromise that is acceptable to the opposition or to the other countries? It’s not clear to me,” said Van Dam.

RUSSIAN PUSH

Moscow now plans a “Syrian Congress”, bringing together the government and some opposition groups to write a new constitution leading to elections.

The main opposition has already rejected the idea, saying all talks must come under the United Nations.

But the government has said it backs the congress, as has Turkey, which has some sway over rebel groups in the northwest.

“There is an acceleration in the political solution on the basis of a unified Syria headed by Bashar al-Assad, with amendments to the constitution and in the election law,” a senior, pro-Assad official in the region said.

The Syrian government declared on Sunday that it would support the formation of a committee that will discuss the current constitution and is expected to be set up at the congress. It also said would support U.N. participation in legislative elections to be held after that discussion.

This week’s Geneva talks will focus on the issues of elections and a constitution, Ramzi Ramzi, the deputy United Nations special envoy for Syria said in Damascus on Saturday.

KURDISH GROUPS

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, made millions refugees, ruined big cities and left troops from Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States, as well as Shi’ite militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan on Syrian soil.

After a campaign across central and eastern Syria against Islamic State this year, the government controls more territory than any other force in the country.

But rebels still hold a swathe of northwest Syria, next to Turkey, and an enclave in the southwest near Israel and Jordan. They have other pockets near Damascus and Homs.

Kurdish groups and allied Arab militia backed by the United States also hold the northeast and are holding elections there this week for local councils in an effort to cement autonomy.

They have not been invited to Geneva talks and are regarded by Syria’s neighbor Turkey as being an extension of the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Ankara for three decades.

Assad has sworn to recover all of his state and visiting Iranian officials have indicated that new military campaigns may soon start against both the rebels and the Kurds.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry in Beirut, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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