Syria's Geneva II: Several agendas around the negotiating table

Ahmed Eleiba , Friday 17 Jan 2014

Main Syrian opposition coalition have yet to decide whether they will attend next week's meeting in Geneva

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (centre, R) meets Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (centre, L) in Damascus January 15, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

It seems that the international efforts to gather parties to the Syrian conflict together at Geneva had benefited Bashar Al-Assad's regime itself.

Throughout the three-year conflict, the regime justified the use of force as a means to fight terrorism, and attempted to gain worldwide support for its claims.

Although denied by the White House, US journalistic leaks revealed intelligence cooperation with Damascus to gather information about 1,200 European jihadists who have joined the fight in Syria.

Russia seems to be another part of the equation, as the Syrian regime's ally perceives the peace conference as an opportunity for internationally-brokered talks between the government and the opposition.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that the highly-awaited Geneva II conference, scheduled for 22 January, aims at "fighting terrorism," during this week's meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif headed to Moscow with the Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem for talks with Lavrov ahead of the conference.

Al-Muallem said on Friday he had handed Russia plans for a ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, and was ready to exchange lists with rebel forces for a possible prisoner swap.

"I count on the success of this plan if all sides carry out their obligations," Al-Muallem told a joint news conference in Moscow with Lavrov before a planned peace.

"We would like this to serve as an example to other towns," Al-Muallem said of the plan for Aleppo.

According to AFP, the United States said the Washington-backed rebels have agreed to abide by such a partial ceasefire if the government is committed to it.

Nevertheless, the possibility of success remains narrow amid the absence of guarantees by powerful Islamists rebel factions which are fighting both the regime and the Gulf and Western-supported rebel groups.

The United States is currently urging the Syrian opposition to attend the conference; the latter is holding a two-day meeting in the Turkish capital Ankara to determine whether or not to participate.

Bassam Al-Malek, member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), told Ahram Online that the main opposition bloc faces pressures to attend Geneva talks "without any prerequisites."

"The opposition called for stopping aggression against civilians, along with opening channels for humanitarian aid," Al-Malek said, referring to the SNC's conditions to join the negotiating process.

Most importantly, he stated that the SNC demands the establishment of a transitional government in Syria with full authority, without the presence of Al-Assad.

Al-Malek said that the opposition had called for the exclusion of foreign terrorist elements from the "Syrian arena" from the beginning of the conflict, and stated that Iran "possesses fighters on the ground".

"But Iran is party to the conflict and not the solution; sitting with its officials on one table will not be fruitful as it represents a non-neutral player," he concluded.

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