News / Middle East

    Syria Peace Talks Face Delay as Big Powers Split

    Officials from 11 nations known as the Friends of Syria met Tuesday with members of the Syrian opposition in London, Oct. 22, 2013.
    Officials from 11 nations known as the Friends of Syria met Tuesday with members of the Syrian opposition in London, Oct. 22, 2013.
    Reuters
    International powers are unlikely to meet their goal of convening peace talks on Syria in Geneva next month as differences emerge between Washington and Moscow over opposition representation, Arab and Western officials said.
     
    Failure of the main Syrian National Coalition to take a clear stance over the talks, which aim to find a political solution to Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war, are also expected to contribute to a delay of up to one month, the officials told Reuters.
     
    “A clearer picture will emerge when the United States and Russia meet next week, but all indications show that the Nov. 23 goal will be difficult to meet,” said one of the officials involved in preparing for the talks.
     
    U.S., Russian and U.N envoys are due to meet in Geneva next Tuesday as part of the preparation for the long-delayed peace conference, which was first proposed back in May.
     
    A main point of contention, the official said, is the role of the Western-backed opposition coalition - an issue which has flared up since a meeting in London last week of Western and Gulf Arab countries opposed to Assad.
     
    They announced that the Geneva negotiations should be between a “single delegation of the Syrian regime and a single delegation of the opposition, of which the Syrian National Coalition should be the heart and lead, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
     
    Russia sees the coalition as just one part of the opposition and has suggested that several delegations, including Damascus-based figures tolerated by the government, could represent President Bashar al-Assad's foes.
     
    That position was echoed by Hassan Abdul Azim, head of the opposition National Coordination Body, who said after meeting international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus that delegates should attend not under the banner of the coalition but as part of a united “Syrian National Opposition”.
     
    A communique at the end of the London meeting also said Geneva would aim to establish a transitional government by which time “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria”.
     
    “The Russians are furious at the strong stance taken in London and that the communiquDe went a long way towards satisfying the demands of the coalition,” a Western official said.
     
    Minister sacked
     
    Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil listens during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, July 22, 2013.Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil listens during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, July 22, 2013.
    x
    Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil listens during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, July 22, 2013.
    Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil listens during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, July 22, 2013.
    Preparations for the Geneva talks were thrown into further confusion on Tuesday by the dismissal of Syria's Deputy Prime Minister, Qadri Jamil, after he met senior U.S. diplomat Robert Ford in Geneva on Saturday.
     
    Jamil, a member of what Assad describes as the “patriotic opposition”, was sacked for leaving the country without permission and holding unauthorized meetings, state media said.
     
    “He saw Ford after meeting Russian officials in Moscow. The meeting was long but useless,” a Middle East official said, asking not to be named.
     
    “Jamil put forward what Ford apparently regarded as unworkable proposals regarding the Geneva talks. He also unsuccessfully tried to win U.S. backing to include him on the opposition side in the Geneva talks,” he said.
     
    Another diplomatic source said Russia had backed the idea, but that the coalition would not have agreed to sit on the same side of the table as Jamil in any negotiations.
     
    “It will take time between Russia and the United States to resolve their differences. We are looking now at Geneva between Nov. 23 and Christmas,” he said.

    Opposition undecided
     
    Differences between Moscow and Washington are not the only obstacles to the peace talks going ahead.
     
    Ahmad Jarba, president of the opposition coalition, has publicly resisted calls to commit to attending the Geneva conference, saying the coalition will not take part if there is any chance Assad might cling to power.
     
    “He was speaking to his constituency and his public stance differs from what he told us privately,” one delegate at last week's London meeting said, trying to play down the significance of Jarba's stance.
     
    “We assured Jarba that an understanding had been reached with the Russians for Geneva to produce a transitional governing body with full powers over the army and security apparatus and that Assad would not be allowed to retain power under any special clauses. But his fate will not be specifically discussed at Geneva,” the delegate said.
     
    Even if Jarba were to attend, he has no authority over the rebel brigades battling to overthrow Assad. Many have rejected any negotiations not centered around Assad's removal and said they would charge anyone who attended them with treason.
     
    Opposition sources said Jarba, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, traveled there in recent days to meet King Abdullah. Jarba will preside over a coalition meeting in Istanbul on Nov. 9 to discuss taking a position on Geneva.
     
    “The meeting will likely stretch for up to a week as usual. What is required is for the coalition to forget rhetoric and come up with a strategy, road map and a detailed policy,” one envoy said.
     
    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was still planning for a November conference but “no date or details is set or final until the United Nations announces it.”
     
    There was no immediate comment from officials at the United Nations or in Moscow.
     
    Several officials, including Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, have said they expect the Geneva 2 conference to convene on Nov. 23, though the United States, Russia and the United Nations have all said no date has been officially set.
     
    “A date has not been officially set because no one wants it to be officially postponed,” a Western diplomat said. “But it has been clear all along the aim was Nov 23. It looks now that it will be de facto postponed.”

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora