Jonathan Fowler
Last updated: 12 February, 2014

Syrian regime refuses to discus the opposition’s plan

Syria’s opposition laid out a transition plan for the war-ravaged nation at Geneva peace talks Wednesday, including chasing out foreign fighters and a path to elections, but the regime refused to discuss it.

The UN-brokered talks between the Syrian foes have been deadlocked amid repeated arguments about what should be discussed first, leading both sides to warn they could collapse.

The opposition plan, seen by AFP, sketches out the role of the so-called Transitional Governing Body (TGB), which the international community says is key to regime change in Syria.

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had planned to focus in Wednesday’s talks on the issue of a transitional government after urging the parties to discuss halting the violence on Tuesday.

The goal is to create a transitional government to steer Syria out of the war that began after President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests in March 2011.

Nearly three years on, more than 136,000 people have been killed and millions driven from their homes.

But Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, insisted the political question was meant to come much later and that switching issues around was a “recipe for disaster and failure.”

Muqdad said the priority was “terrorism” — the regime’s term for a revolt it says is fuelled by foreign jihadists and Gulf money.

The opposition counters that Free Syrian Army rebels are themselves fighting the jihadists as well as Assad’s force.

Monzer Aqbiq, a senior adviser to Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba, also contrasted the manner in which jihadists have slipped into Syria with the “organised way” the regime has brought in “mercenaries” from the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

– ‘Fascist regime’ –

The transition government is meant to be created “by mutual consent”, under the terms of a string of UN Security Council resolutions.

Aqbiq blasted the regime for failing to even respond to the proposal laid out at Wednesday’s session of peace talks, which resumed Monday but have seen no progress, like January’s first round.

“The root of this problem is the existence of a totalitarian, brutal, fascist regime, a corrupt one, that the Syrian people don’t want any more. This is what will save lives: the transition,” Aqbiq told AFP.

A key tenet of the opposition plan is to “ensure the withdrawal of all external military groups and foreign fighters” from Syria, and Aqbiq stressed that applied to both sides.

It also states that the transition government’s chief objective is to halt violence and create a “neutral environment for a political transition”.

The opposition plan makes no mention of Assad, who the opposition says must quit right away and should be tried for war crimes, but whose status is not up for discussion according to the regime.

Opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters the body would be responsible for “establishing a ceasefire, releasing prisoners of conscience, maintaining law and order, starting a process of transitional justice for all”.

“We consider that it goes without saying that Assad and his acolytes are not part of the TGB,” Aqbiq said.

Paving the way for elections, the plan foresees a “national reconciliation conference” to craft the basis of a new constitution.

Elections to a constituent assembly would follow, before a referendum on the constitution it would create, with multi-party elections and the dissolution of the TGB capping the process.

The so-called Geneva II negotiations were initiated by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria. They pushed for eight months to get the parties to the negotiating table.

Washington and Moscow have largely remained on the sidelines, allowing veteran peacemaker Brahimi to run the show.

But with the talks at an apparent standstill, Russia has proposed a collective meeting with the UN, Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes to try to break the deadlock.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was scheduled to meet with Brahimi and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Geneva on Thursday.