Syrian regime to take part in UN peace talks

Assad regime officials welcome UN peace plan to end war in Syria following Security Council resolution to initiate transition process

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a joint news conference with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not seen) after a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, December 24, 2015.

Walid al Moualem, the foreign minister for Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime, has said that the regime is willing to participate in talks to be organised by the UN in Geneva to bring an end to the Syrian conflict.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Moualem said the regime was "ready to participate in the Syrian-Syrian dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference" while disclosing his discussion with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“Our delegation will be ready as soon as we receive a list of the opposition delegation," Moualem said, adding "we hope that this dialogue will be successful to help us in having a national unity government."

His comments come just one week after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, the UK, France, Russia and China - all agreed to push for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria in order to initiate a political transition process to end the conflict.

The UN plans to start the process on Jan. 1 and hold the first peace talks in Geneva by the end of January, with the hope that Syria can hold a new election by mid-2017.

Moualem also said that the regime will “compose a constitutional committee to look for a new constitution with a new law of election so the parliamentary election will be held within the period of 18 months, more or less."

Assad's role unclear

The Assad regime has accepted the terms of last week’s resolution, regime adviser Bouthaina Shaaban to Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen television channel on Wednesday, even though it is not clear whether or not Assad will play a role in the country’s future.

While UN Security Council members Russia and China, along with Shiite powerhouse Iran, have supported Assad throughout the conflict, Western and Gulf Arab nations have called for Assad to step down.

In talks hosted by Saudi Arabia earlier this month, 100 representatives of armed opposition groups agreed that Assad should step down before the transition phase begins and that a post-Assad Syria should be an all-inclusive democracy.

However, Assad said in an interview with Spanish media that he would not negotiate with armed opposition groups.

Assad also told Russian lawmakers during a meeting in Damascus in October that he is willing to run for another seven-year term in office.

However, Shaaban noted a change in the West’s tone recently, especially since the DAESH terrorists group claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 in which 130 people were killed.

"It was not easy for the West to retreat. This is the first time that the West's word has been defeated over Syria,” Shaaban said, before praising the Russian military intervention which began on Sept. 30 in support of the embattled regime.

"We are now in a much better position that we were in... There is real international partnership to combat terror, a big understanding of (our) position and the turnaround that started a year ago is now coming to a full circle," Shaaban added.

Russia has been conducting air strikes in Syria since Sept. 30 in support of the embattled Assad regime, primarily concentrating its operations on territories held by Syrian opposition forces in the Latakia, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs provinces.

Concerns have been raised that Russian air strikes have been targeting moderate groups backed by the US and its allies in the region, but Russia has insisted its campaign only targets “terrorists,” a term they use to refer to all armed opposition groups.

Failed attempts

Notably, Syria’s top opposition body, the Turkey-based Syrian National coalition (SNC), did not take part in the peace talks held in New York last week.

A number of previous attempts by the Assad regime to undertake reforms on the road to democracy after the uprising started failed to convince the Syrian opposition and the international community.

In February 2012, a referendum was held on constitutional reforms which would limit the rule of a president to two seven-year terms while the regime continued to bomb opposition-held parts of the country.

Although Syrian officials said that nearly 90 percent of people backed the reforms with a 57 percent turnout, the referendum was dismissed as a sham by a number of Western officials and was boycotted by the country’s biggest opposition groups - the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria.

Syria also held a presidential election in regime-controlled areas in June 2014, with Assad triumphing over two other candidates with 88 percent of the vote. According to the regime’s constitutional court, the turnout was 73 percent, but this figure has been highly contested.

US Secretary of State John Kerry at the time called the election, which saw 21 candidates barred from running, "meaningless.” The European Union, meanwhile, said that the election was illegitimate and undermined the political efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

The war in Syria has so far claimed the lives of over 250,000 people since it began in March 2011 according to UN estimates, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that the true death toll exceeds 350,000.

TRTWorld and agencies