Kremlin: Putin has no plans so far to attend Syria peace congress

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov visit the Gorbunov Aviation factory in Kazan, Russia, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 January 2018
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Kremlin: Putin has no plans so far to attend Syria peace congress

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin currently has no plans to attend a Syria peace congress in the Russian city of Sochi, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Peskov said the congress, which Russia will host on Monday and Tuesday, will be important but will not find a definitive political solution to the Syria crisis.
Putin also discussed the situation in Syria’s Afrin with the national security council on Friday, Interfax news agency cited Peskov as saying.
Peskov said Putin spoke about Afrin in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
The Syrian opposition was expected to decide on Friday whether to attend the congress, a spokesman said in Vienna as the UN held separate talks on finding a way out of conflict.
The UN-brokered talks — of which this is the ninth round — have made little progress so far.
Having regained the upper hand on the battlefield after nearly seven years of conflict, President Bashar Assad appears unwilling to negotiate with his enemies at all, let alone step down as part of any peaceful solution as opposition groups have demanded.
Arriving at the UN offices in Vienna on Friday, the talks’ host, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, told reporters he expected “a long meeting.”
With a breakthrough unlikely, a question at the center of Friday’s discussions was whether the opposition will attend a Syria peace conference next week in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi, which Moscow announced after the last round of UN talks in December.
Western powers and some Arab states believe Sochi is an attempt to create a parallel political track that would undermine the UN and lay groundwork for a solution more suitable to the Damascus regime and its allies.
The warring sides have not spoken face to face — a Syrian regime delegation was due to meet De Mistura in the afternoon. De Mistura was expected to make a statement at the end of the talks.
Previous rounds have taken place sporadically in Geneva, with a mandate to discuss new elections, reformed governance, a new constitution and the fight against terrorism.
At the last round in December, the Syrian regime delegation objected to the opposition’s tough line on the future of Assad, and those talks achieved nothing.
Syrian regime forces are pursuing offensives against two remaining opposition pockets, Idlib in the northwest and Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday that he did not envision a “strategic alliance” with Russia in Syria as Washington looks to end Daesh and curb Iran.
“I don’t see strategic alliance — perhaps tactical symmetry for a convenient moment, but not a strategic alliance,” the high-ranking Republican said during a public debate on a visit to Abu Dhabi.
“What matters most to us in Syria is defeating ISIS (Daesh) and preventing Iran from having a land bridge and Hezbollah a foothold,” he said. “Question remains is that something Russia would embrace?”

Military base
Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, accused Iran of attempting to turn Syria into “the largest military base in the world” to destabilize the region, threaten Israel and “terrorize the entire free world.”
Danon told the UN Security Council that classified information he was releasing showed that 82,000 fighters are currently under Iranian authority in Syria.
He said the fighters include 60,000 Syrians, 9,000 members of Hezbollah, 3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guard members and “10,000 members of violent militias recruited from across the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Danon said the Iranians “speak about 100,000 troops under their control in Syria.”
In addition, he said, Iran is investing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Syria including on land and factories.


Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

Updated 22 May 2018
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Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

  • Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday.
  • The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Al-Fattah, the Iranian-backed parliamentary bloc that won the second-highest vote in the parliamentary elections, are in deep negotiations with the powerful Shiite leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr to form a coalition.

While it is too early to talk about ministerial posts, Al-Fattah has no veto over Haider Al-Abadi, the current prime minister, from taking a second term, the alliance’s senior leaders told Arab News on Tuesday.

Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday. The biggest coalition has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and form a government.

The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

Ahmed Assadi, the spokesman of Fattah and one of its leaders, said negotiations were continuing with Sairoon, the alliance which came first in the election with 54 seats and is led by Al-Sadr.

“There is no way to form a government without either of them,” Al-Assidi said.

“Both (Fattah and Sairoon) represent the biggest alliances among the winning forces and enjoy great support in the street and the region, so there is no way to ignore one of them.”

The Fattah alliance, which is openly funded and supported by Iran, won 47 seats, which includes 22 seats won by Badr Organization, one of the most prominent Shiite armed groups and 17 seats won by Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the second most powerful Shiite paramilitary group.
The relationship between Al-Sadr and Fattah leaders is tense as the cleric has accused Fattah factions of carrying out an Iranian agenda in Iraq.

Al-Sadr has said on several occasions in the last two weeks that he is ready to negotiate with all political forces except Fattah and the State of Law — led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

But Al-Sadr’s tone has changed in recent days and he has come back to say that the coalition he is working on, is open to everyone.

Assadi and two other Al-Fattah leaders said talks have focussed on forming the biggest parliamentary bloc so far not the nomination of the prime minister.

“Our vision is to form a big parliamentary bloc first within the Shiite winning blocs, and then go to the Kurdish and Sunni (winning) blocs,” Assadi said.

Along with Sairoon and Al-Fattah, the talks involving prime minster Al-Abadi’s Al-Nassir alliance, Hikma, led by the prominent cleric Ammar Al-Hakim, Al-Wattiniya, led by Vice President Ayad Allawi, and Maliki’s State of Law.

The only thing that has been agreed upon so far is the formation of a national majority government, not a political power sharing administration. Also, the negotiators have agreed to postpone talking about positions, including the post of prime minister, leaders said.

“It is still too early to announce any coalition,” a senior leader of Fattah involved in the talks and talked told Arab News. “Talks are still focusing on the government program and the details are too many.

“Al-Sadr, Nassir and Hikma are insisting to nominate Al-Abadi but we clearly said that we have no veto against him, but that there would be no discussions over the names until we agree on all the other details.”