Total Pageviews

Monday, January 27, 2014

In Assad Government Communiqué, a Clue to Syria Peace Talks’ Hurdles

GENEVA â€" As we reported, a tenuous peace conference in Geneva between the Syrian opposition and the government has yet to produce concrete results, and on Monday, the third day of face-to-face talks, a communiqué released by President Bashar al-Assad’s government showed just how far apart they are from any agreement.

The United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, convened another session of the talks, in which he was said to be bringing an international expert involved in drafting the Geneva I protocols to resolve differences of interpretation. The June 2012 agreement known as Geneva I calls for a fully empowered transitional governing body to be formed by “mutual consent.”

The opposition has demanded that the government formally confirm that it accepts the protocol, but on Monday the Syrian government made its own interpretation clear by submitting what it called “basic elements for a political communiqué.”

One of the Syrian government’s most senior delegates to the conference, Bouthaina Shaaban, a longtime presidential adviser, distributed a copy to reporters on the sidelines.

The document made no mention of the words “transition” or “reform” and appeared to suggest that Syria was already a rule-of-law democracy. The Geneva I protocols, which some members of the Syrian delegation have said they accept as the basis for the current meeting, call for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers by “mutual consent.”

The government’s document states: “The Syrian Arab Republic is a democratic country on the basis of political pluralism, the rule of law and the independence of judiciary and citizenship and protecting national unity and cultural diversity” and “protecting public freedom.”

Its first agenda item was defending Syrian sovereignty and indivisibility and calling for commitment “to restore all its occupied territories” - apparently a reference to the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war, an issue not previously on the agenda.

It called for an end to foreign interference and foreign supplying of weapons and information to terrorists, and says Syria’s future can be decided only by its citizens at the ballot box. The government has blamed Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the West for supporting jihadist groups in Syria, but says foreign interference and terrorism do not apply to the intervention of Iran, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias on its side in the Syrian war.

Ms. Shaaban said that she was surprised that the opposition delegates rejected the document and that she thought Mr. Brahimi was surprised, too.

“There is nothing to reject here,” she said. “What are you, American?”

Monzer Akbik, a spokesman for the opposition coalition, said it had submitted a document too, and its document was the Geneva I communiqué.

“We recognize the legitimacy of the international community and its resolutions,” he said. “If the talks break up, it won’t be because of us.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.