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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Syrian opposition says Sochi congress damages peace efforts 

Russia's expectations are unrealistic, opposition spokesman tells The National

Head of Syrian opposition delegation Nasr Hariri gestures as he speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their negotiations in Moscow. The Syrian delegation chose not to attend the talks in Sochi on 29 and 30 January. Sergei Chirikov / EPA
Head of Syrian opposition delegation Nasr Hariri gestures as he speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their negotiations in Moscow. The Syrian delegation chose not to attend the talks in Sochi on 29 and 30 January. Sergei Chirikov / EPA

Russia is undermining the UN mandated agreement aimed at ending the Syrian war by hosting a national dialogue, the spokesman for the Syrian opposition told The National.

Moscow is hosting a congress in the Black Sea resort of Sochi aimed at consolidating its influence in the region and hammering out a path to end the brutal conflict.

Yahya Al Aridi said that Russia is only focusing on some of the elements of UN resolution 2254 aimed at outlining a road map for peace in Syria, while ignoring others.

“The goals, agenda and the people attending Sochi…are easily suspected,” he said.

For the opposition, president Vladimir Putin has invited 1,600 people to the talks to “take a picture and present it to the world to show them that Moscow has gathered the Syrians to reconcile and to bring peace.”

Mr Al Aridi accused Russia of having unrealistic expectations. A successful dialogue, he said, cannot be achieved over the space of two days with a large number of people attending.

“If a huge number of people are to meet for seven hours, a dialogue cannot be built,” he said.

However, Mr Putin is desperate to jumpstart a political process in Syria, with ISIL loosing most of its territory and Russian presidential elections scheduled for March.

The opposition announced their boycott on Saturday.

“We feel that it’s not the way for bringing peace for Syria, although the UN and other states are invited, this is not the way,” he said.

Instead Mr Al Aridi stressed that Russia must focus its efforts on pressuring the regime to commit to implementing UN Resolution 2254.

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Moscow said on Monday that the absence of the Syrian opposition will not hinder the two-day peace talks.

"The fact that some representatives of the processes currently ongoing in Syria are not participating is unlikely to stop this congress from going ahead and cannot seriously sabotage it," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The opposition blames the Syrian regime and its Russian backer of relying on military means without showing willingness to enter into honest talks.

The solution to ending Syria’s devastating seven-year war requires Russia to bring the Damascus regime to the negotiations table “to sign a paper that will lead to the removal for those who have committed crimes in Syria.”

Military means have not resulted in any progress in Syria, Mr Al Aridi said. “The implementation of UNSC resolution, starting with the Geneva communique 2254 which talks about creating a constitutional and electoral procedure,” is the only way to achieving peace.

Additionally, anyone who stands for elections “should prove that they haven’t committed any crimes, we believe that those who have blood on their hands or participated in crime are not eligible for standing up as candidates.”

A peaceful political process will “require a good international will to implement UN resolutions aimed at ending this saga,” he said.

The continuance of Bashar Al Assad’s regime is the best prescription for “tension, displacement of people, destruction and killing of people,” added Mr Al Aridi.

The war has now left more than 340,000 people dead.

Mr Al Aridi pointed out that there are certain “states who take a negative stance towards the reconstruction of Syria as long as this particular regime is in power.”

Meanwhile, an ongoing Turkish offensive in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin has further overshadowed the Syrian National dialogue.

“We understand the Turkish position for its Afrin operation, that they PYD and PYG are a threat to its national security.”

At the same time the opposition opposes “any foreign power on the Syrian land starting with the militias of Hezbollah who came to the rescue of the brutal dictatorship,” Mr Al Aridi said.

However, there is a big difference between what Iran is doing and what Turkey is doing in Syria.

“Iran has been behind the death of thousands of Syrians as well as being a spoiler of the so called de-escalation zone,” said Mr Al Aridi in reference to the separate Syria peace talks held in the Kazakh capital of Astana between rebel-backed Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran. The talks led to the establishment of the so-called "de-escalation zones" — areas in Syria where fighting between regime forces and rebels should have ceased.

Although Iran is a guarantor of the Astana agreement “it is behind the breaching that is taking place in those zones on a daily basis,” he said.