UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi met US and Russian officials yesterday to discuss convening long-delayed Syrian peace talks this year despite disputes over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s future and whether his ally, Iran, can attend.
Hours earlier, Damascus reiterated that al-Assad will stay in power come what may, casting doubt on the political transition that is the main focus of the proposed “Geneva 2” conference.
“Syria — the state, the nation and the people — will remain and … [al-]Assad will be president of this country all the time they are dreaming that he isn’t,” the Syrian state news agency quoted Syrian Minister of Information Omran Zoabi as saying on Monday night.
Brahimi conferred with US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and Russian deputy ministers of foreign affairs Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
After their closed-door talks, they were to be joined by officials from the other three UN Security Council permanent members: Britain, France and China, as well as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Arab League.
A UN source said that even if a conference date could not be announced immediately, the aim was to “at least see that all the parties and groups are ready for a date.”
This is by no means certain, given gaping international divisions over Syria and the disarray among al-Assad’s opponents.
Russia said Iran must be invited to any such peace talks, after the Syrian opposition said it would not attend if Tehran took part.
The proposed peace conference is meant to build on an agreement world powers reached in June last year in Geneva that called for a transitional authority with full executive powers, but left open whether al-Assad could play any part.