BEIRUT: The participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria talks will be discussed once they stop backing militancy, Syria’s deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday, appearing to reject their attendance at forthcoming peace talks.
Making allegations that Qatar and Saudi Arabia supported militancy, Faisal Meqdad said he will discuss the matter of their participation in the talks once they stop aiding militancy. He was talking to the Lebanon-based TV station Al-Mayadeen.
The talks are to begin on Monday in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, called for by Russia, Iran and Turkey, will include members of Syria’s armed opposition. Russia and Iran are Assad’s two main allies. Turkey has backed the rebellion against Assad, as have Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It is not clear if the government and the opposition fighters will meet face-to-face. The last round of talks, indirect negotiations mediated by the UN, broke down nearly a year ago. Syria has decided to send its UN ambassador and a military delegation to the talks with the armed opposition. The negotiations represent the latest attempt to resolve the six-year-old conflict.
A Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations, said on Wednesday that UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari will head the delegation.
Moscow has suggested inviting representatives from the incoming Trump administration to Astana. Iran, which is also taking part, is opposed to US participation.
No to Astana: Opposition
Key Syrian opposition group Ahrar Al-Sham said on Wednesday it will not take part in peace talks between the regime and opposition factions in the Kazakh capital next week. The group decided not to participate in the negotiations in Astana due to “the lack of implementation of the cease-fire” in force since Dec. 30 and ongoing Russian air strikes over Syria, it said in a statement.
Ahrar Al-Sham was among opposition groups that signed the cease-fire deal brokered by regime supporter Russia and opposition backer Turkey last month.
The truce has largely held across Syria although fighting has persisted in some areas, allowing Russia, Turkey and Iran to organize the peace talks in Astana.
Ahrar Al-Sham said “the regime’s offensive against our people in Wadi Barada,” an area 15 km northwest of Damascus that is the capital’s main source of water, was among the reasons it would not attend the talks. Assad’s forces have pressed an assault to retake the area from opposition groups after mains supplies were cut last month, leaving 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs without water.
Mohammad Alloush, a prominent figure of the Jaish Al-Islam faction, will in Astana head a “military delegation” of around eight people, backed by nine legal and political advisors from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.
Consequences ‘too dangerous’
Meanwhile, the new UN chief said on Wednesday that the global threats caused by Syria’s civil war have become “too dangerous” to go unresolved, underlining the need for progress at the peace talks.
Antonio Guterres, who took charge of the world body on Jan. 1, noted that the conflict had triggered instability in the Middle East and terrorist attacks across the world.
“The consequences of this conflict have become too dangerous for everyone,” Guterres told reporters at the UN in Geneva.