News / Middle East

Syrian National Council Agrees to Attend Peace Talks with Government

Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, at Bayan Palace, Kuwait, Dec. 8, 2013.
Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, at Bayan Palace, Kuwait, Dec. 8, 2013.
Edward Yeranian
The main Syrian political opposition group has voted to attend United Nations-sponsored peace talks taking place January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland.
 
The Syrian National Coalition's media office says 58 of 73 coalition voters have supported attending the so-called Geneva II talks with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government. Another 44 who had initially attended the session had withdrawn and did not vote.
 
The decision to attend the conference, which is aimed at forming a transitional government, follows intense pressure and lobbying by the United States and other Western supporters.
 
Many opposition leaders have refused to attend talks without a prior commitment that Assad step down.
 
Addressing supporters in Istanbul, Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba, who called Assad a criminal, said his group would attend the conference.
 
"The Assad regime has committed atrocities against both Syria's minorities and its majority, using al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Iran as his mercenaries to remain in power," he said, adding that all of the opposition's demands must be met, including Assad's removal and ultimate prosecution.
 
On Friday, top opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh said his group has not changed its key demand about wanting to see the embattled Syrian president gone, saying the opposition will leave talks unless discussions focus specifically on the regime's removal.
 
The Syrian government considers all rebel forces to be terrorists, and has tried to shift the focus of peace talks from formation of a new government to fighting extremism.
 
Damascus officials also say they have given Russia plans for a cease-fire in Syria's largest city of Aleppo and exchange of prisoners with Syrian rebels.
 
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said during a Friday visit to Moscow that he had turned over the proposals in preparation for the upcoming peace talks.
 
According to Middle East analyst Nadim Shehadi of London-based Chatham House, the opposition decision to attend “cannot be taken lightly,” as Russian and U.S. demands are not clear and it “seems like they're asking them to talk with Mr. Assad.”
 
Apparent divisions within the opposition, he added, are a healthy sign rather than a fundamental flaw.
 
“I think what people are seeing as fragmentation, division and lack of unity and coherence in the opposition is a very healthy phenomenon and should be seen as a sign of what a future democratic Syria should and would look like after Assad,” said Shehadi.
 
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami of the U.S.-based Hoover Institution, a conservative public policy think tank, argues that the opposition faces a dilemma, as these peace talks are emerging at time when "Assad and his allies are winning, or have won, or have prevailed."
 
"For the opposition, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Ajami. "If you go to [the peace talks], you're pretty much going to accept the defeat of this rebellion. If you don't go to [the peace talks], then you risk the wrath of the powers and you seem like a surly, rebellious group.”
 
A communique from the first Geneva meeting on Syria referred to a “transition” that the opposition and its Western backers have interpreted to mean Assad's departure. However, the Syrian president and his Russian and Iranian allies disagree, insisting Assad must be part of any transition.

Former U.S. ambassador to Syria and assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy told VOA that the opposition remains "deeply suspicious of the Assad regime's intention to prolong the talks and divert them to other issues, other than a transitional regime in which Assad would have no role."

Murphy notes that the Assad government has offered to "enter into local cease-fires and exchange prisoners." He says the rebels are "afraid that such a program will be attractive to foreign powers and further build Assad's image as the power with which the world should deal." He adds that the Syrian regime is "replaying its favorite theme that outsiders must recognize the need to cooperate with [it] in a joint struggle against international terror."
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed Saturday's vote as "a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians," said Friday he would not allow Assad to focus talks on topics such as fighting extremism, which Assad says he is doing in the civil war. Kerry also said the United States is not out of options to pressure his government to comply with the goals set in the first Geneva conference.
 
Foreign ministers from several countries are due to gather in Montreux on Wednesday for the formal conference. Then the Syrian parties will move to the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva for what are scheduled to be direct talks with U.N. and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

You May Like

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sunny Enwerem from: Abeokuta Nigeria
January 19, 2014 10:27 PM
Allowing Iran is a big mistake because when you allow a terrorist sponsoring regime into a peace talk you have indirectly invited the terror you intend to stop.

by: Anonymous
January 18, 2014 3:50 PM
That is wonderful they are attending and showing a body representing the majority of people in Syria. If discussion of fighting terrorism is on the agenda I hope they arrest bashar al assad soon after the meeting. He has inflicted more terror on the Nation of Syria than anyone. More destruction, more homes, businesses, more lives, more murdered by bashar al assad and his hired thugs than anyone else in Syria. Bashar tends to think he can be a cowboy by just destroying anything or murdering anyone in Syria. Anyone that takes innocent human lives indiscriminately as assad has proven, is a murderer. Anyone that does this does need to face the people, and see what they want to do with him. A judicial system must be set up in Syria and have an inquiry into each and every Syrian death. With todays technology it wouldn't be too hard to figure out.

Lets get the truth out there, and make awareness to others that human lives are valuable, and those that kill people in the thousands need to be served justice for their crimes against humanity. Investigations into the bombings in the major cities, towns and villages should be done by international investigators. This whole war has been recorded by the milisecond from space, so there is lots of evidence of what has been going on there.

Nobody wants to deal with criminals, so we the world, can understand the Syrian National Coalition's frustrations with trying to deal with bashar al assad.

We are with you.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More