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Syria Peace Talks Shift Focus Towards Assad’s Future

Syrian negotiators at the Geneva peace talks are under pressure to discuss the question of President Bashar al-Assad.

Published
World
2 min read
 Syrian peace talks at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo:AP)

Syrian government negotiators at the Geneva peace talks are coming under unaccustomed pressure to discuss something far outside their comfort zone: the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. And they are doing their best to avoid it.

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura describes Syria’s political transition as “the mother of all issues” and, emboldened by the Russian and US muscle that brought the participants to the negotiating table, he refuses to drop the subject.

After a week of talks in Geneva, he praised the opposition for the depth of their ideas but criticised the veteran diplomats on the government side for getting bogged down.

Arguments over Assad’s fate were a major cause of the failure of previous UN peace efforts in 2012 and 2014 to end a civil war that has now lasted five years, killed more than 250,000 people and caused a refugee crisis.

The main opposition, along with the United States and other Western nations, has long insisted any peace deal must include his departure from power while the Syrian government and Russia have said there is no such clause in the international agreements that underwrite the peace process.

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The Syrian president looked more secure than ever at the start of the latest round of talks, riding high after a Russian-backed military campaign.

But Russia’s surprise withdrawal of most of its forces during the week signalled that Moscow expected its Syrian allies to take the Geneva talks seriously. De Mistura appointed a Russian expert to sit in the negotiations with him and to advise on political issues.

Unlike previous rounds, the talks have run for a week without any hint of collapse, forcing the government delegation led by Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari to acknowledge de Mistura’s demands.

Ja’afari began by giving de Mistura a document entitled “Basic elements for a political solution”.

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