Geneva talks: Syrian opposition is optimistic about de Mistura’s role

Geneva talks: Syrian opposition is optimistic about de Mistura's role
Head of opposition delegation for the Geneva IV on Syria Nasr al-Hariri speaks during a news conference at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland February 24, 2017, REUTERS

The Syrian opposition said that its first meeting with the UN envoy during the new round of peace talks as generally positive, praising him for being more engaged in discussing a political transition.

The new round of Syria peace talks has started in Geneva on February 23. after it was previously planned to be on February 8. but delayed in order to take advantage of the results of Astana settlement about the ceasefire in Syria, which was planned by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, addressed the both delegations asking them to work together to help in ending the crisis in the country.

“I ask you to work together. I know it’s not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified,” de Mistura told the delegates sitting opposite each other on the stage of the U.N. assembly hall in Geneva.

De Mistura told the representatives of both delegations that they had a joint responsibility to end a conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

“The Syrian people desperately all want an end to this conflict and you all know it,” he said.

“You are the first ones to tell us it. They are waiting for a relief from their own suffering and dream of a new road out of this nightmare to a new and normal future in dignity.”

Ready for direct discussions

The opposition’s delegation reacted by demanding direct talks with the regime’s delegation.

“We ask for direct negotiations … It would save time and be proof of seriousness instead of negotiating in [separate] rooms,” Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) umbrella group, told reporters.

During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the two sides never sat down at the same table, instead of leaving UN mediator Staffan de Mistura to shuttle between them.

“If the regime’s side is here for serious talks, it shouldn’t hesitate or run away from face-to-face talks. If the purpose of the talks is to bring peace to Syria and to stop the bloodshed, we are ready for it,” Yahya al-Aridi, advisor to the HNC, Syria’s main opposition umbrella, said as the talks kicked off at the United Nations headquarters.

Still, the opposition official said the rebels would not quit the talks should the Syrian government delegation refuses direct negotiations.

“We are ready to go anywhere in the world in order to bring Syria back to life,” said Aridi.

Positive ideas

De Mistura held bilateral meetings with the delegations on Friday to establish a plan for talks that could run into early March and handed them a working paper on procedural issues that may help in reaching a solution to end the crisis in Syria.

The opposition delegation, which is not fully under one umbrella, said it had also received the paper.

Friday’s discussions with de Mistura only covered “procedural” aspects of the ongoing talks, Hariri said, adding that specific points about the shape and scope of any transition would be clarified in the coming days.

“There is a paper about the procedural issues and some ideas to begin the political process,” lead negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters.

“We have heard from Mr de Mistura positive ideas and suggestions, I believe he is more enthusiastic to be engaged seriously in political transition,” he said.

“I believe he was more enthusiastic than before in discussing a political transition in Syria. So far there are no specific measures.”

Only political transition is accepted

The opposition’s goal was to forge “a just political solution that ensures for the Syrian people its aspirations and dreams, for which it has paid a very high price”, he said.

Hariri said the opposition presented its “understanding” of points in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that discuss political transition in Syria, including governance, the formation of a new constitution and new UN-supervised elections, suggesting it would not back down on its demands that Bashar al-Assad steps down from power.

Opposition officials said that their delegation would respond on Monday to the framework for political transition submitted by de Mistura.

“What will be discussed in the following days is the make-up of a transitional governing body – as in, who the members of this body would be,” Mohammad Sabra, the chief negotiator for the opposition delegation, told Al Jazeera.

He said the opposition’s participation in the latest round of Geneva talks was aimed at finding ways to implement “mechanisms” to “force the Syrian government to comply with UN Security Council resolutions surrounding Syria if it refuses to do so”.

“The regime always claims that it is looking for a political solution,” Sabra said.

“So far, it has not said that it refuses to implement the resolutions. Resolution 2118 stipulates that in the case of refusal, the Security Council can take measures based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter […] to force the regime to comply with the international law so that we can achieve a political transition.”

Shortly after Friday’s news conference, the opposition delegation returned to its hotel and held a closed-door meeting with Michael Ratney, the US special envoy for Syria, and several European diplomats.

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.