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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)
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.”
 

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