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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Syria opposition calls for direct talks with Assad government in Geneva

It came as the latest round of UN-brokered negotiations kicked off in the Swiss city without regime representatives present

Nasr Al Hariri, head of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee and the unified Syrian opposition delegation to UN-brokered peace talks, (left) meets UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva, Switzerland on November 28, 2017.
Nasr Al Hariri, head of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee and the unified Syrian opposition delegation to UN-brokered peace talks, (left) meets UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva, Switzerland on November 28, 2017.

The Syrian opposition called on Tuesday for direct talks with president Bashar Al Assad's government in Geneva, as the latest round of UN-brokered negotiations kicked off in the Swiss city without regime representatives present.

Earlier, the United Nations said the Syrian government had given assurances that it planned to arrive in Geneva on Wednesday to take part in the talks.

‘The Assad regime continues to inflict brutal suffering on the people while procrastinating and making excuses about the diplomacy in Geneva," said Yahya Aridi, the spokesman for the unified opposition delegation, officially called the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC).

"It no longer has the pretext that the opposition is fragmented. We are one. We are ready to negotiate directly with the other side," he added, speaking after a series of meetings between the opposition and UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The talks are seen as a chance for the United Nations to end the six-year war — which has killed more than 340,000 people and left Syria in ruins — and mark the first time that Syrian opposition groups have sent a unified delegation to represent them.

A UN spokeswoman confirmed on Tuesday that the government's delegation had not yet arrived in Geneva, but said Mr de Mistura had received assurances that representatives would be arriving the following day, Reuters reported. The opposition delegation — which is being led by Nasr Al Hariri — told The National that it was also expecting government representatives to arrive on Wednesday.

Mr Al Hariri confirmed on Monday that the opposition was “united and ready for real talks with the government”.

“While we wait for the regime’s delegation that is prepared for serious negotiations, the regime continues to stall and hinder any progress for a political solution,” he said during a press conference in Geneva.

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Mr Al Hariri, who also heads the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee, the main Syrian opposition grouping, on Monday called on the international community to be held accountable for not putting pressure on Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s regime to enter real negotiations for a political transition in line with a UN road map to end the war.

The opposition leader held talks with the British minister responsible for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, on Monday night before meeting with US acting assistant secretary of state for near east affairs David Satterfield on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Mr de Mistura called for “real” diplomacy as he spoke to a UN Security Council meeting in New York via video link from Geneva.

Ahead of the eighth round of UN-brokered talks peace talks in Switzerland, Mr de Mistura told the Security Council that the Syrian government and a united opposition should engage in negotiations in Geneva without any preconditions and that all other initiatives should support the UN mediation process.

As mandated by Security Council resolution 2254, the talks are scheduled to focus on governance, drafting a new constitution and future elections as the basis for a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned process to end the conflict.