Syria: Are Geneva talks showing first signs of progress?

Syria: Are Geneva talk showing first signs of progress?
The opening ceremony of the current Syria peace talks in Geneva

Syria peace talks in Geneva may have started to show progress, as opposition said that the political transition became an essential part of the talks due to Russian pressure on the regime side.

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.

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.

During the talks, the opposition’s delegation accused the regime delegation of seeking to hinder the peace talks as its head said the main goal of the talks should be combating terrorism without mentioning the political process, while regime forces in Syria kept breaching the ongoing shaky truce and killed dozens of civilians since the talks started.

In addition, the opposition pledged Russia to play its role as a guarantee of the truce and use its influence over the regime to force it to accept the political solution.

Political transition to the foreground

The Syrian opposition’s delegation to the Geneva talks had a meeting with the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, which was mainly on focused on the issues of political transition, and opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters he had made “a good start”.

“We had a lengthy discussion with de Mistura and his team. The main issue that we discussed was political transition. Of course it’s a long issue, and it needs several meetings to discuss it, but it was a good start…. Political transition is a key to lead us to a stable Syria and tackle the issue of terrorism,” Hariri told reporters.

The opposition wants to discuss “political transition” because they see it as an end to Assad’s autocratic rule.

Such a political concession by the government, after major gains on the battlefield, has never been up for discussion, according to past comments by Assad’s chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari. Hariri said Ja’afari may have had his arm twisted.

“We heard from Mr de Mistura that – due to Russian pressure, and this is a sign that can be initially encouraging – there is acceptance to tackle the issues enshrined in (U.N. Security Council resolution) 2254, and most importantly to us political transition,” Hariri said.

Resolution 2254 sets out a political transition process including plans for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance.

Sources said that the regime’s delegation agreed to study de Mistura’s three political concepts. However, they said it had repeated its long-standing position that counter-terrorism talks should take priority and be part of the negotiations.

Hariri also accused the regime’s side of trying to stymie progress and of ramping up the war to foil the talks.

Seeking bigger Russian role

On February 28., Russia used the veto for the seventh time to ban a UN Security Council resolution backed by Western powers that would have imposed sanctions on Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Salem al-Muslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) representing opposition forces at Geneva peace talks, said that the opposition regretted Russia’s seventh veto on Syria, but planned to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov in hopes of convincing Russia to use its influence on Assad.

“We hope that they come here having something in mind to push the political process here in Geneva because, with this regime, we will reach nowhere unless there is a pressure and the only country that can deliver pressure on the regime is Russia,” Muslet said.

Abdul Hakim Bashar, vice president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, said that the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) will hold talks Wednesday evening with Russia’s deputy FM.

Bashar revealed that the HNC will focus on three major issues– the ceasefire, a possible attack on Ghouta, and the political solution for Syria.

“We will discuss three topics with the Russians — the ceasefire, a planned attack on Ghouta, and the political solution,” Bashar said.

“Russia offered itself to hold talks in Astana under its patronage, we want Russia to carry out patronage in Geneva too instead of being a side to the negotiations,” he added.

“Counterterrorism is a complicated subject. It could be negotiated here or in Astana… When you make a transitional government, it will be them who will decide how and when to fight terrorism.”

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.