Syria talks kick off in Moscow, lit­tle progress ex­pected

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MAX DE­LANY

Talks on end­ing the war in Syria be­gan on Mon­day in Moscow but the ab­sence of key op­po­si­tion groups meant there was lit­tle hope of progress in re­solv­ing the con­flict.

Syria’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Bashar al-Jaa­fari, is head­ing the gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion for the meet­ings with mem­bers of the do­mes­tic “tol­er­ated” op­po­si­tion, the Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee for Demo­cratic Change (NCCDC).

But the main West­ern-backed ex­iled Syr­ian op­po­si­tion Na­tional Coali­tion stayed away, and an­other lead­ing do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion ac­tivist re­mains un­der a travel ban from Da­m­as­cus.

The dis­cus­sions, which run un­til Thurs­day, April 9, are ex­pected to fo­cus on hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues and plans for fu­ture talks, while also serv­ing as a way for Rus­sia, a main backer of the Syr­ian regime, to build its pro­file as a po­ten­tial me­di­a­tor in the con­flict.

A source in the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment del­e­ga­tion told AFP that the op­po­si­tion would spend Mon­day and Tues­day meet­ing with Rus­sian me­di­a­tors be­fore the two sides sit down to­gether Wed­nes­day.

“The main idea this time is to agree on a pre­cise agenda for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions,” the source told AFP.

Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov played down hopes for any break­through say­ing Moscow was dis­ap­pointed by the de­ci­sion of Na­tional Coali­tion not to at­tend.

“We are not set­ting any fi­nal dead­lines given that so much blood has been shed in Syria and that there have been so many false starts in this process,” Lavrov said.

The talks fol­low a sim­i­lar round of meet­ings be­tween the gov­ern­ment and of­fi­cially tol­er­ated op­po­si­tion in Moscow in late Jan­uary that failed to make any con­crete progress to­wards re­solv­ing the deep­rooted con­flict.

The sit down is the first since some of the key in­ter­na­tional play­ers in the cri­sis thrashed out an out­line deal over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry re­fused to rule out speak­ing to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

But de­spite the seem­ingly pos­i­tive noises over the con­flict there seemed lit­tle prospect of any break­through at the Moscow talks.

Ahead of the meet­ing a source close to Syr­ian gov­ern­ment del­ega- tion told AFP that the del­e­ga­tions “will only dis­cuss ‘soft’ sub­jects on which agree­ment might be found.”

“You can­not say that th­ese con­sul­ta­tions will have any ma­jor re­sults,” Rus­sian Mid­dle East ex­pert Boris Dol­gov told AFP.

“It is just one step, al­beit im­por­tant, on the path to­wards stop­ping the cri­sis in Syria.”

Dol­gov said that by host­ing the talks Moscow was look­ing to boost its stand­ing as a po­ten­tial me­di­a­tor while also seek­ing to curb the threat that rad­i­cal groups such as Is­lamic State pose to its na­tional se­cu­rity.

The op­po­si­tion Na­tional Coali­tion, how­ever, ac­cus­ing Rus­sia of seek­ing to use the talks to bol­ster As­sad, has de­clined to at­tend, and finds it­self in­creas­ingly side­lined by pow­er­ful re­gional ac­tors such as Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt.

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