The main groups of the Syrian opposition announced their agreement Thursday in Riyadh for talks with Bashar al-Assad, but demanded the departure of the head of state with the start of a possible transition period.
The conference in Riyadh, which gathered a hundred representatives of the political opposition and army, was to unify the ranks for talks to end a conflict that since 2011 over 250 000 deaths and led to exodus of millions of people.
The agreement was announced on the eve of a meeting on Syria between representatives of Russia, the US and the UN in Geneva, a week before a new international meeting in New York.
In a final statement issued after two days of talks in Riyadh, the participants were “willing to enter into negotiations with representatives of the regime on the basis of the Geneva Declaration-1 (30 June 2012) and relevant international resolutions (…) within a period to be agreed with the UN. ”
The Geneva-1 conference between the major powers had discussed a transition in Syria, but maintained the blur on the fate of Mr. Assad.
“Confidence Building Measures”
In Riyadh, opponents claimed that “Bashar and his clique withdraw from power with the beginning of the transition period” policy. There they made concessions so far as they demanded that Assad be excluded from all negotiations for a transition.
But before any negotiations, they also requested that the regime take “confidence building measures”.
Opponents cited the release of detainees, the suspension of death sentences, the siege encircled areas, the delivery of humanitarian aid, the return of refugees and stopping the bombing of civilian areas with barrels explosives.
For possible talks, the Riyadh conference reached “an agreement on a unified vision of a settlement process and (training) of supreme authority” to oversee the delegation to the negotiations, said al Souheir -Atassi, a leader of the National Coalition, the main component of the opposition in exile.
This body count 30 members, including the third granted to armed groups, according to participants.
This unprecedented gathering is part of an international diplomatic process to expedite a settlement in Syria, with the growing danger represented by the jihadist group Islamic State (EI) that exists in this country and has recently claimed responsibility for deadly attacks Paris and against a Russian aircraft.
Removing Ahrar Al-Sham?
Before the agreement in Riyadh, Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main rebel groups, announced its withdrawal in a press conference to protest against the “essential role” given to “personalities linked to the regime.”
However, according to other sources, the Islamist group would finally signed the final communiqué. No confirmation could be obtained immediately.
Participants stressed their “rejection of terrorism in all its forms” and the presence of “all foreign fighters” in Syria.
Before the end of the conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry held that the dialogue took place in a “very constructive.”
However, Iran, allied with the Syrian regime, denounced the meeting in Riyadh.
Met for their annual summit also in Riyadh, the Gulf monarchies have they expressed support for “a political solution” in Syria. But Saudi Foreign Minister al-Adel Jubeir reiterated that Assad should leave power.
Parallel to the meeting in Riyadh twenty other groups, which they do not undermine the Assad regime, met in Damascus on Wednesday. A third meeting was attended by Kurdish and Arab opposition groups in north-eastern Syria.
An international settlement process in Syria was revived late October in Vienna by 17 countries – including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and European powers – and three international organizations.
These actors have set a schedule for a meeting from 1 January between representatives of the opposition and the regime, before a cease-fire, the formation of a transitional government within six months and the organization of elections within 18 months.
The only negotiations between the main opposition groups and regime took place in January and February 2014 in Switzerland and had ended in failure.