Syria: UN says Geneva to find “political solution”, slams US weak role

UN: next Syria peace talks on 20 February in Geneva

The United Nations envoy to Syria said on Sunday that the upcoming Geneva talks would aim to let political negotiations advance, and slammed the US weak role in Syria.

“Astana is the only place for the cessation of hostilities and Geneva is to see if there is any space for political discussion,” Staffan de Mistura told delegates at the Munich Security Conference, referring to separate ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital between Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

In addition, de Mistura has declined to confirm whether a political transition in Syria will be discussed at the forthcoming talks in Geneva, in a change of language that the UN used to describe goals of these talks.

The development means Bashar al-Assad’s future will be off the agenda and the main focus of the talks among various Syrian factions will be governance, a new constitution, and elections.

He said the Geneva talks would be based on UN Security Council resolution 2254.

“I can’t tell you (if it will succeed), but we have to push for momentum. Even a ceasefire cannot hold too long if there is no political (solution).”


De Mistura also questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian conflict, “Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said.

He added that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the issue.

The US’ top three priorities include fighting the ISIS, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region”, said de Mistura.

“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said.

Political transition and the opposition’s demands

The Syrian opposition has always demanded that the political transition should be the key point in the peace talks efforts, as changing the regime is the first step in ending the war.

Salim al-Muslit, spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said the opposition was sticking to its position that President Bashar al-Assad can have no role in the transition, saying “the heavy price paid by the Syrian people” would have been wasted if he remained in power.

Muslit said the HNC, which includes rebel groups and political opponents of Assad, wanted to start the negotiations by discussing a governing body to oversee the transition.

“We want direct negotiations, we want to save time, we want a quick end to the suffering of the Syrian people,” said Muslit. But he said the opposition had yet to receive an agenda for the talks, which are due to begin on Feb. 23 following preliminary meetings beginning on Feb. 20.

Turkey, which has been a major supporter of the rebellion against Assad, has jointly brokered with Russia a ceasefire to pave the way for the talks.

Despite the ceasefire, Muslit said Assad and his allies were “still carrying out crimes” and he accused them of preparing a major assault against the rebel-held Ghouta region to the east of Damascus.

“We now want to get into the essence of the political process – the discussion of the political transition – and what the Geneva 1 communique stipulated about the formation of a transitional body with full powers,” Muslit said.

He was referring to the Geneva communique of 2012 calling for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that could include members of the present government, the opposition and other groups. The communique said it should be formed on the basis of mutual consent.

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.