Syrian Kurds won’t attend Russia’s Sochi congress, says official

Syrian Kurds won’t attend Russia’s Sochi congress, says official
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said the negotiations came at a ‘very, very critical moment.’ (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2018

Syrian Kurds won’t attend Russia’s Sochi congress, says official

Syrian Kurds won’t attend Russia’s Sochi congress, says official

BEIRUT/VIENNA: Syria’s main Kurdish groups will not go to a Syrian peace congress in Russia and there can be no discussion of a solution to the war while a Turkish assault on the Afrin region continues, a senior Kurdish official said on Thursday.
Badran Jia Kurd, adviser to the Kurdish-led autonomous administration that runs parts of northern Syria, said it had not received a formal invitation to the Syria congress since it was confirmed to be taking place on Jan. 29-30 in Sochi.
Meanwhile, in Vienna, the UN embarked on fresh efforts Thursday to jump-start Syrian talks that Western countries and the opposition fear are being undermined by the separate Russian diplomatic push.
The two days of talks in Vienna come after eight previous rounds in Geneva, during which the two sides failed to even meet each other.
The previous attempts stumbled in particular over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the regime delegation refusing to meet the opposition face-to-face until they drop demands that he leaves office.
The regime’s top negotiator Bashar Al-Jaafari made no comment as he arrived at the UN in Vienna to meet the world body’s special envoy Staffan de Mistura. He said on Wednesday that the negotiations came at a “very, very critical moment.”
The main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), said it would sit down for separate talks with the envoy.
Nasr Al-Hariri from the SNC said the discussions would be “a real test for all the sides.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian highlighted a “considerable worsening of the humanitarian situation” in Afrin as well as in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.
The Vienna talks come ahead of a separate peace conference next Tuesday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The three key regional players have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year, which have fueled concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the UN. “The Russians have done everything to weaken the Geneva process. They want to short-circuit it and be the only sponsor of the diplomatic process,” said Hasni Abidi from the CERMAM think-tank in Geneva.
The focus in Sochi will be on hammering out a new constitution, according to the opposition, something that de Mistura also wants discussed in Vienna.
While Assad’s regime has said it will go to Sochi, the SNC has not yet decided, even after a recent visit to Moscow.
A Western diplomatic source said that if Moscow wanted its own peace talks in Sochi to be successful, it must push its ally Assad into accepting the need for a political transition, as agreed by the UN Security Council in 2015.
“This is the moment for the Russians to be banging their fists on the table,” the source told AFP.
“The opposition has no reason to go to Sochi if the Russians don’t win any commitments from Damascus.”
Some 1,600 people have been invited to Sochi, Moscow said Thursday.
“Invitations have been sent and continue to be sent to Syrian participants, some 1,600 people will receive such invitations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
International observers, including those from the UN, will take part in the congress along with Syrian parties, Zakharova said in comments reported by Russian news agencies.
The SNC this week said it would need further details before it could make a final decision on whether to attend the talks, which dozens of rebel factions have already rejected.