Syria peace talks: Opposition won’t discuss Assad future

Syrian opposition officials said they will focus on maintaining the ceasefire during the peace talks that will start today, rather than discussing the fate of Assad and Syria’s future, as the situation on the ground has greatly changed and they lost many of their pressure cards.

Many ceasefire agreements accompanied by peace talks meetings were organized to help find a solution to the crisis in Syria, but Assad regime and Iranian forces breached every ceasefire and hindered every peace talks meeting without any pressure moves or real steps from the western powers.

The recent months especially witnessed numerous meetings between the US and Russian foreign ministers to find a solution to the Syria crisis, end the violence and start new peace talks but they led to nothing.

In the end, Russia said it has a new plan for Syria peace talks which can be achieved with powers that have a real effect on the Syrian ground after its forces backed Assad regime to achieve many victories against the opposition and tilted the tide of war in his favor.

Russia and Iran both back Assad, but Turkey, a NATO member, has long made clear it would prefer him to step down. Ankara has however sought to fix its relation with Russia in recent months after the coup attempt as the west abandoned its relations with Turkey.

The three countries said they were ready to help broker a Syria peace deal after the three countries held talks in Moscow and adopted a new declaration.

This new relation included Turkey’s moderation of its rhetoric on Assad, changing the goal of its military operation in Syria, decreasing its support for the armed Syrian opposition, and playing a major role in bringing the Syrian opposition to one table with Assad through the newly made agreement as the new agreement shows.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said then that that Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including a ceasefire deal that will be guaranteed by Turkey and Russia.

The documents include a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition, measures to monitor the ceasefire deal and a statement on the readiness to start peace talks to settle the Syrian crisis, Putin said.

These peace talks were scheduled to start on Monday 23 January in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Not to discuss Assad future

Officials say meetings will be aimed at consolidating the nationwide ceasefire that went into effect last month rather than discussing Assad’s fate.

“No one has discussed this [the future of Assad],” Yahya al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition delegation and adviser to the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

Assad was still a “red line” for the opposition, he explained, adding that there was “no context” for discussing the president’s role after a potential political solution.

“[Keeping Assad] is the best prescription for the continuation of the tragedy. If he is capable of carrying on his shoulders the death of half a million people and the displacement of half of the population […] then he can stay. But in reality, things do not work this way,” Aridi said.

The ceasefire went into effect on December 29 but has been breached numerous times by Assad regime and the Iran-backed militias especially around Damascus city.

“At this stage, we have one goal, which has been agreed upon by all the parties included. That is to consolidate the ceasefire. That is why we came here,” Osama Abu Zaid, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, one of the rebel groups fighting Assad’s government, said.

He added that his delegation had met Turkish officials on Sunday to discuss the agenda of the talks.

Aridi said as well as attempting to consolidate the ceasefire, rebels wanted to secure the release of prisoners held by the Assad government, lift blockades on besieged areas and ensure civilian access to humanitarian aid.

Speaking to a group of reporters, Aridi would not confirm or deny whether there would be direct negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the government in Damascus.

“There is a Geneva track where they could talk about these things [Assad’s future] in detail, where there will be some political transition with full power to the welfare of the people again, to bring Syria back to life,” said Aridi.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.