News / Middle East

    Syrian Peace Talks Start; Assad Opposition to Send Delegation

    Demonstrators holding a Free Syria flag and placards reading "Stop the killing in Syria" take part in a protest outside the United Nations (UN) offices in Geneva, on Jan. 29, 2016 on the opening day of Syrian peace talks.
    Demonstrators holding a Free Syria flag and placards reading "Stop the killing in Syria" take part in a protest outside the United Nations (UN) offices in Geneva, on Jan. 29, 2016 on the opening day of Syrian peace talks.
    Ken BredemeierLuis Ramirez

    U.N. talks aimed at ending the five-year-old Syrian civil war started Friday in Geneva, with the main opposition group fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad belatedly saying it would send a delegation to the gathering.

    The U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met first with the Damascus delegation, led by Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari. A spokeswoman for the U.N. diplomat said he would later meet with other participants in the talks, including civil society representatives affected by the conflict that has killed more than a quarter-million people and left millions displaced.

    U.N. organizers say they are conducting indirect proximity talks, meetings in separate rooms, aiming to lay the groundwork for negotiations to end the civil war. It is the U.N.'s first attempt at Syrian peace talks in two years.

    The United States had urged the Saudi-backed opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, to accept the "historic opportunity" to join the talks without preconditions. At first, the group said it would stay away after its demands for an end to airstrikes on civilians and a lifting of the siege in Syria were not met. It relented later Friday and said it would send a delegation of 30 to 35 people to Geneva for "discussions," not "negotiations."

    Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in front of damaged shops in the town of Rabiya after they recaptured the rebel-held town in coastal Latakia province, Syria, Jan. 27, 2016.
    Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in front of damaged shops in the town of Rabiya after they recaptured the rebel-held town in coastal Latakia province, Syria, Jan. 27, 2016.

    The war pits the Assad government against the rebels — both moderates and militants. Both the government and the moderate opposition have, at the same time, been battling extremists that include Islamic State militants.

    The U.N. did not invite the Islamic State group because the U.N. considers IS a terrorist organization. Kurds who control much of northeast Syria are also missing from the talks, at the demand of Turkey, which says they are aligned with Kurdish fighters who have waged a 30-year battle with Ankara for autonomy in southeastern Turkey.

    The talks are part of a plan outlined by the U.N. that calls for an 18-month timetable for transition in Syria, including drafting a new constitution and elections.

    Confusion over who should represent the opposition, and the opposition’s demands for its conditions to be met prior to the start of talks, showed how difficult the road to peace will be.

    In the final hours before the start of talks Friday, organizers worked to smooth differences enough to get all parties to attend.

    U.N. mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 25, 2016.
    U.N. mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures during a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 25, 2016.

     

     

    De Mistura: 'Talks cannot fail'

    In a video message to the Syrian people Thursday night, de Mistura said the talks “cannot fail.”  He said five years of the conflict have been “too much” and that the Syrian people have had “enough.”
     
    Pressure to enter into negotiations is largely external, with the United States, the European Union, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all pushing for a solution.

    In the West, that urgency has been fueled by terrorist attacks in Paris and the United States, and by the migrant crisis. Four million people, largely from Syria, are expected to arrive in western Europe this year.

    The battles in Syria have intensified since September, when Russia began airstrikes in support of Assad, countering the efforts of opposition groups supported by the United States, some members of the European Union, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.

    The complicated backdrop makes the peace process especially difficult.

    With Russian support, Assad’s forces have made significant gains. Analysts say the government has little incentive to negotiate with an opposition that is weak and fractured.

    Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, is pessimistic.

    “We are pressuring the opposition to prove that they are united, coherent, that they have a strong leadership and that they have a vision, and a policy and a certain consensus on what the future will be, and I don’t think they do, I don’t think they will in the near future, and I don’t think they can,” he said.   
     
    The talks had been set to begin last Monday but were delayed to Friday by discussions on who should represent the opposition.

    WATCH: Syrian Civil War explained

    Explainer: The Syrian Civil Wari
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    November 04, 2015 4:14 PM
    How did the crisis in Syria evolve and who are the key players? This short video gives you the basic facts about the ongoing civil war.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Ozigooner
    January 29, 2016 4:51 PM
    There is no such thing as a moderate opposition...the opposition only care about Sunni Arabs whilst eliminating Alawites, Christians & Druze populations. Typical American biased journalism...shameless!

    by: Anonymous
    January 29, 2016 12:08 PM
    There's no "moderate rebel" or opposition. All of them are Islamist extremists. Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front, Army of Conquest, the Turkmen Brigades and many other b.s. names are AQ supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The new B.S. that collects all AQ groups under the misleading name of High Negotiating Council (HNC), is just another try to hide these groups' true identity.

    It's actually good that they didn't attend the negotiations, because they don't have any place in Syria or among the Syrian people. They are imported Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Saudis and Turks fighting against the Syrian and Iraqi people and can go back to their countries.

    The only people who are truly fighting ISIS and AQ are the Syrian Government Army, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran and the Kurds. Saudi and Turks will commit any crime to protect ISIS and AQ.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 29, 2016 9:27 AM
    When the US is on the same side with the terrorists and demand the same things the terrorists demand, (saying they are on the right side of history), then you know, the world is in trouble, because the very naïve and insane are running the Obama administration foreign policies and military? .. The only thing the US and the terrorists want is a Russian and Syrian army ceasefire, with battle lines frozen in place, (to stop the Russian and Syrian army blitzkrieg), so the US and their allies can rearm, resupply and reequip their supported terrorist groups and reposition them?

    The US and the Sunni Muslim terrorists don't want peace in Syria until the Shia Muslim led government of Assad is removed and replaced by some unheard of unelected unknown unidentified Sunni Muslim president and government? .. But nobody from the US explains how they will get rid of the terrorists if they do get Assad and his government removed and replaced by those unheard of unelected unknown unidentified Sunni Muslims? .. In the Obama fantasy fairytale land of elves and fairies, the terrorists just disappear, or go home, or they will be defeated by his elves and fairies?

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