DAMASCUS: Syria will send delegates to a Geneva peace conference under President Bashar al-Assad’s orders, but his grip over the war-torn country will not be under discussion, an official said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The announcement was immediately condemned by Syria’s opposition, which restated its demand that the talks, dubbed Geneva 2, must lead to a political transition that excludes any role for Assad.
Despite the dim prospects for peace with both sides refusing to compromise, Iran said it and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the war, would press for a ceasefire ahead of the talks.
The January 22 peace conference is aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old civil war, a bloody stalemate which has killed an estimated 120,000 people and driven millions from their homes.
“Syria announces the participation of an official delegation under the orders of [Assad] and the demands of the Syrian people, with the top priority eliminating terrorism,” said a foreign ministry source quoted by state media.
The source also said the delegation was not going to Geneva to hand over power, and that the condition stipulated by Syria’s opposition and the West that Assad must not have a role in the country’s future was out of the question.
“Our people will not allow anyone to steal their right to choose their future and their leaders, and what is key about Geneva is to assert the Syrians’ rights, and not of those who are spilling the people’s blood.”
The main opposition National Coalition dismissed the announcement as “a pretence of cooperation with the international community as a cover to continue its war on the Syrian people.”
The Coalition reiterated its demand that Geneva 2 must lead to the creation of a “transitional governing body” with “full executive powers” that excludes Assad “and those associated with him.”
Iran, the Assad regime’s most powerful regional backer, said that both it and Turkey, which supports the opposition, would press for a ceasefire in Syria ahead of the planned peace talks.
“All our efforts should be carried out to finish the conflict and reach a ceasefire even before Geneva 2,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a news conference in Tehran with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.
Ceasefires have been announced before, notably around Muslim holidays, but none has ever held up despite pledges of commitment by both sides.