Moscow conference discusses opposition's amendments

During the Moscow conference, Syrian opposition parties submitted a draft including 10 humanitarian items, which indicates their inclination toward a humanitarian solution rather than a political one.

al-monitor Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) attends a meeting with members of the Syrian opposition and the Damascus government ahead of talks that attempt to revive peace plan efforts in Syria, in Moscow, Jan. 28, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev.

Topics covered

syrian opposition, syria, russia, peace talks, geneva

Jan 29, 2015

The Moscow paper — which outlines 10 steps toward a solution in Syria, giving priority to humanitarian concerns over politics — is not in line with the Syrian National Coalition statement. The statement on Jan. 27 accused the Moscow meeting of circumventing the Geneva I communique.

The second day of the [Syrian] opposition’s consultations — before today’s meeting with Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, and a Syrian government delegation to Moscow — concealed all warnings of failure and political land mines that the Geneva I communique carries. [These conditions] are the same ones the Syrians experienced a year ago in Montreux and then again in Geneva.

The 30 Syrian oppositionists who met in the guest house of Russia's Foreign Ministry, under the supervision of the Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies Vitaly Naumkin — who was appointed mediator under a great deal of Russian and diplomatic caution to foster a dialogue without interference — represented an internal weight. Despite this, the Russian Arabist interfered just once to suggest “restricting the possession of arms to the state,” rather than the army, because it is one of its institutions.

A Syrian public opinion poll issued Jan. 27 by the Building the Syrian State movement revealed that Syrians are reluctant to have party affiliations and favor the internal opposition, despite its weakness. It also revealed that nearly 90% of Syrians give priority to the issues of freedom, the release of detainees and the resolution of humanitarian issues, while the political solution and negotiations came second.

Away from Damascus, in Moscow, Khaled Issa, Fateh Jamous, Safwan Akash, Majd Niazi and Meys Kraidy were in charge of preparing a joint draft on the poll’s results, instead of the interlocutors.

A first draft was sent back to be modified after the representatives of the [Syrian] Tribal Council demanded alterations. They insisted naming the army “the Syrian Arab Army,” while the Kurdish representatives demanded that the statement — which limits arms to the army — be replaced with a text stipulating that weapons shall be limited to state institutions, and that the Kurdish People's Protection Units be given a legal status. However, it was subsequently decided to keep the original text. The discussions about the draft showed that the internal opposition strongly favored a humanitarian solution [above all other factors].

It seems that agreeing upon a document that gives priority to the humanitarian issue over the political one will promote the new approach, which focuses on the segmentation of the Syrian solution and the gradual attainment of the objective. It is true that the oppositionist Moscow document will supersede the Geneva I communique and postpone any transition process. This is because Geneva I no longer reflects the realities on the ground, the decay of the Free Syrian Army, the growing involvement of Israel, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the conflict and the international variables in the position toward Damascus and the survival of Bashar al-Assad in power.

During the day, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov concludes his speech in front of the oppositionists and government figures, a Syrian oppositionist in Moscow, whose name has yet to be agreed upon, will read the draft memorandum of understanding for the Syrian two-day dialogue. Although there is political preamble to advance the 10 humanitarian items and build confidence, the interlocutors may ignore the political preamble for the time being, according to one of them. This is a goodwill gesture by the opposition in order to guarantee the continuation of the dialogue. “Because continuing to insist on Geneva will result in ending the political process and in failing Moscow, which took an entire bloody year to return to political life,” a Syrian oppositionist said.

The political preamble included three items highlighting the priority of the political solution, based on the Geneva communique and principles. The second item reads that all Syrians who believe in a political solution are considered partners in the Syrian-Syrian dialogue. The third item includes the following:

  • The transition to a civil democratic state that is based on the principles of citizenship, equality among Syrians and gender equality that guarantees the national constituencies and ethnic rights of the Syrian people.
  • Fighting and defeating terrorism, and countering the forces of foreign intervention.

A Syrian Kurdish official said that from the Syrian Kurdish view, deleting the preamble is an expression of the regime's lack of desire to bring about democratic change. This is now a view being shared by a range of the Syrian opposition. He added that deleting the preamble would be an exclusion of the Kurdish party and self-rule.

The 10 items in the draft that will be discussed with the government delegation today [Jan. 28]:

  1. The halt of the indiscriminate shelling (barrel bombs, hell cannons) that targets civilians.
  2. The release of all prisoners of conscience, peaceful activists, women and children.
  3. The release of abducted people and prisoners, especially women and children.
  4. The entry of medicine and food to all parts of Syria.
  5. The formation of a Syrian human rights body that will have the right to directly intervene in any cases of human rights violations.
  6. The breakup of the media monopoly, and the opening of its doors to all Syrians.
  7. The formation of joint committees to achieve these steps.
  8. Work to lift economic sanctions and the blockade imposed on the Syrian people.
  9. The solution to the old detention file.
  10. Any future political process should restrict arms possession to the Syrian state.

According to Syrian sources in Moscow, the consultative meeting has been endorsed by the United States. A Syrian oppositionist said, “The Russians told us that US diplomats informed Syrian oppositionists in Moscow about the need to support the meeting in Moscow, and to make it succeed, because there is no alternative for the process that is led by the Russians at present.” [Another] Syrian oppositionist said the Americans informed those they met about the need to carry on with the dialogue in the next six months, to facilitate the integration of the Syrian army in the [international] coalition against terrorism, and the need for a political process before this goal is reached.

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