Putin should have ‘courage’ to push Assad: UN envoy

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, arrives to give a press conference closing a round of Syria peace talks in Geneva on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 15 December 2017

Putin should have ‘courage’ to push Assad: UN envoy

JEDDAH: Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, on Thursday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have the courage” to push Damascus to accept new elections and a new constitution.
De Mistura said Putin should “convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose” in efforts to reach peace in Syria after nearly seven years of war. UN-led talks ended in Geneva on Thursday without any results.
Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman at the talks, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia and Western countries “have contributed to the constructive agenda by supporting the Syrian Negotiations Commission in its efforts to make progress on transition.”
He was reacting to regime negotiator Bashar Jaafari’s accusation that the opposition sabotaged the talks by putting down a precondition last month that President Bashar Assad should have no role in Syria’s political transition.
Rejecting the charge, Al-Aridi said both sides were asked by de Mistura to engage in serious discussions.
“We did that. We spent three weeks discussing in depth with de Mistura the pathway to political transition, taking a constructive approach on how to proceed on a new constitution and free and fair elections as part of the framework set out by (UN) Security Council Resolution 2254, with political transition at the forefront of this sequence,” Al-Aridi said.
The regime delegation’s accusations of sabotage are the latest pretext, he said, adding: “It’s not possible to sabotage negotiations by engaging constructively.”
Al-Aridi said every day lost to delay and procrastination “is another day of bombardment and starvation for Syrians besieged by the regime.”
Transition is the only way to free the Syrian people, he said. “And the only way to make Syria safe (for people) to come home (to) is by negotiations at the UN in line with resolution 2254.”
De Mistura said it was “regrettable” that Assad’s delegation had refused to meet face-to-face with the opposition.
At the start of the latest round, the delegations at one point sat just meters away from one another in separate rooms.
Bahia Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News: “It’s ridiculous for the regime to suggest that Western countries are stalling the talks when it’s Assad and his regime that refuse to engage.”
She said: “I’ve been at the negotiating table and seen first-hand how the regime stalled progress at every turn and used any excuse to delay progress.”
Mardini added: “The reason they did this is very simple: They want to maintain the status quo and a situation where they have full control over the Syrian people.
“They don’t want Syrians to have democracy because the regime knows that if this happened, Assad would be rejected once and for all.”
The regime, she said, has spent years murdering, torturing and threatening its civilians. “Everyone who believes that Syria deserves the chance to have democracy must now stand stronger than ever and not give up,” she added.
Mardini said her greatest hope is that “we will one day see meaningful peace and democracy in Syria.”
Democracy is the only way Syria can be free from the violence of Assad and terrorist groups such as Daesh, both of whom have been rejected by Syrian civilians, she added.
“It’s important that we remember that the reason the revolution started was Syrians refused to live their lives without freedom. Our aspirations are built on peace, not violence,” Mardini said.
“It’s time for Assad’s allies, especially Russia, to pressure the regime to enter UN negotiations in a meaningful way,” she said.
“That means Putin must apply pressure to his ‘friend’ Assad to re-enter the talks and do what’s in the best interests of the Syrian people.
“If they (the regime) won’t engage in talks fully, it’s further evidence they aren’t interested in making progress for Syria.”
Mardini said de Mistura should seek continued support from the international community to force the regime to negotiate with the opposition directly.
“Syrians just want to be able to return home, live without fear and have their basic human rights secured,” she added.
“There are still too many Syrian people without food or shelter, and these international diplomatic efforts mustn’t stop until we know they’re safe.”

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 58 min 46 sec ago

Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.