Syrian government negotiators at Geneva peace talks are coming under unaccustomed pressure to discuss something far outside their comfort zone: the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. And they are doing their best to avoid it.
U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura describes Syria’s political transition as “the mother of all issues” and, emboldened by the Russian and U.S. muscle that brought the participants to the negotiating table, he refuses to drop the subject.
After a week of talks in Geneva, he praised the opposition for the depth of their ideas, but criticized the veteran diplomats on the government side for getting bogged down.
“The government is currently focusing very much on principles, which are necessary in any type of common ground on the transition,” he said. “But I hope next week, and I have been saying so to them, that we will get their opinion, their details on how they see the political transition taking place.”
Arguments over Assad’s fate were a major cause of the failure of previous U.N. peace efforts in 2012 and 2014 to end a civil war that has now lasted five years, killed more than 250,000 people and caused a refugee crisis.
The main opposition, along with the United States and other Western nations, has long insisted any peace deal must include his departure from power, while the Syrian government and Russia have said there is no such clause in the international agreements that underwrite the peace process.
The Syrian president looked more secure than ever at the start of the latest round of talks, riding high after a Russian-backed military campaign.
But Russia’s surprise withdrawal of most of its forces during the week signaled that Moscow expected its Syrian allies to take the Geneva talks seriously. And de Mistura appointed a Russian expert to sit in the negotiations with him and to advise on political issues. Read More