Indirect negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition will open in Geneva on Monday to try to end a war now in its sixth year, but the gap between the parties remains abysmal despite a truce on the ground.
Washington and Paris on Sunday called for “real” negotiations, accusing Damascus of trying to “derail the process” by trying to exclude discussion of the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, whose opposition and its allies are demanding the departure.
In Geneva, the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Sunday night that there was no agreement yet on the agenda, after meeting with the delegations of opposition and the regime in “informal meetings”.
The opposition she said she had not come to Geneva with the intention to withdraw from the discussions.
“We came to discuss a political solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people and we hope that the other party (the Damascus regime, ed) will be as serious as us,” said the press Salem al-Meslet, spokesman of the delegation of the High negotiations committee (HCN), bringing together the key groups of the opposition.
The war in Syria, which began in March 2011 after the bloody crackdown by the regime of peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy and freedom has turned into a complex conflict involving a multitude of local and international actors. She made more than 270,000 deaths, forced more than half the population to leave home and in turn caused a major migration crisis.
In late January and early February, the peace talks convened by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura for Syria had petered out, the opposition denounced a simultaneous offensive of the regime with the support of the Russian army in north Syria.
The talks that open Monday in Geneva will take place in a radically different context due to a truce on the ground between the rebels and the regime.
Initiated by the United States and Russia, which entered into force on February 27, the cease-fire holds despite violations, the UN and its partners have been providing assistance to almost 250 000 people living in besieged areas, assistance demanded by the opposition.
Europeans and Americans have again insisted Sunday in Paris on the importance of respecting the cease-fire and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to ensure negotiations “credible”.
“Any violation, even sporadically, for the cessation of hostilities endangers the process,” said the US Secretary of State John Kerry, calling once again the Russian and Iranian allies of Damascus to use its influence to enforce the truce.
For the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who admitted that the Geneva talks would be “difficult” but had to focus on “real political transition” in Syria truce “must be fully respected and unimpeded humanitarian access and unhindered. ”
Russia, whose military intervention in Syria has allowed the regime to garner significant success against the rebels, has in turn accused Turkey of “creeping expansion” beyond its border with Syria.
She insisted again on the “need” to include the Kurds in the peace negotiations in order to avoid the risk of partition Syria.
The Geneva negotiations must address for the first time in a concrete way the country’s future.
“We hope that the negotiations will start tomorrow with discussions on the transitional body, which shall have all powers including the President of the Republic,” said al-Meslet. “There will be no role in this body for those who have committed crimes, including (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad,” hammered the opposition representative.
But for the regime, there is no question of discussing the presidential or the fate of Assad, elected in 2014 during the war for another seven.
The plan also has a different interpretation than the opposition on the transitional authority. For him, it is a simple reshuffle with a “unity government” that is to say expanded to opponents but always under the Assad authority as required by the current Constitution .
This new government, according to the head of the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, appoint a committee to “draft a new constitution or amend the current.” The text will then be submitted to a referendum.
Joshua Landis, director of studies on the Middle East at the University of Oklahoma, the agenda set by the UN to Geneva “is not realistic because (President Bashar) al-Assad is stronger than never and will not leave his post. ”
Even if there is agreement between rebels and regime in Geneva, the fighting may continue in Syria as jihadists of Al-Nosra Front, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group (EI) control more than half the territory and are excluded from the truce in force.