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Syrian rebels to reject U.S./Russia-sponsored peace talks?

Bashar al-Assad

The U.S. has made a major concession in order to get a Syria peace conference off the ground. Specifically, Secretary of State John Kerry divorced himself from the rebels’ ‘first Assad must go’ peace talks precondition:

… Kerry told reporters that only the Syrian regime and the opposition can determine the make-up of a transitional government to shepherd the war-torn nation towards democratic elections.

“It’s impossible for me as an individual to understand how Syria could possibly be governed in the future by the man who has committed the things that we know have taken place,” Kerry said as he wrapped up his first visit in office to Russia.

“But I’m not going to decide that tonight, and I’m not going to decide that in the end.”

Except for the middle paragraph, that is largely what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been saying for quite awhile (see paragraph four in blockquote below).

So how does the peace talks proposal play with the rebels? So far not well. From Reuters:

… Most opposition figures have ruled out talks unless Assad and his inner circle are excluded from any future transitional government.

“No official position has been decided but I believe the opposition would find it impossible to hold talks over a government that still had Assad at its head,” said Samir Nashar, a member of the opposition’s umbrella National Coalition body.

“Before making any decisions we need to know what Assad’s role would be. That point has been left vague, we believe intentionally so, in order to try to drag the opposition into talks before a decision on that is made.”

In the past, the United States has backed opposition demands that Assad be excluded from any future government, while Russia has said that must be for Syrians to decide, a formula the opposition believes could be used to keep Assad in power. …

Inside the country, where rebel groups are numerous and have disparate views, a military commander in the north, Abdeljabbar al-Oqaidi, told Reuters he would want to know details of the U.S.-Russian plan before taking a view. “But,” he added, “if the regime were present, I do not believe we would want to attend.”

And here’s the Guardian:

Syrian opposition leaders have reacted sceptically to a joint call by the US and Russia for an international conference to discuss the creation of a transitional government in Damascus to end the country’s escalating 25-month crisis.

Moaz al-Khatib, who resigned last month as head of the National Opposition Coalition (NOC), the main western- and Arab-backed grouping, warned: “Syrians: be careful of squandering your revolution in international conference halls.”

Walid Saffour, the NOC’s London representative, said he was sceptical, though a formal decision had yet to be taken.

The rebels’ sad faces tell me that Syria’s long and bloody nightmare may soon be over, and it’s a day to be cheerful and optimistic. Someone else is happy too:

The US-Russia agreement was warmly welcomed on Wednesday by the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, whose diplomacy has been stalled for months by divisions in the UN security council. “This is the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time,” said his office. “The statements made in Moscow constitute a very significant first step forward. It is nevertheless only a first step.”

Sorry rebels, (maybe) no more beheadings, and (maybe) no more  kidnapping Filipino peacekeepers on the Golan Heights.

Photo by PanARMENIAN_Photo under Creative Commons license

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