Syrian gov't ready to complete removal of toxic agents by March - Russia
"Literally yesterday the Syrian announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1," state-run Russia news agency RIA quoted Gatilov as saying.
"Neither internal, nor external opposition has influence on terrorists"
Neither the external, nor the internal opposition in Syria has the leverage of influencing terrorist groups, Gennady Gatilov says. Referring to the data of the UN, he has noted that the total number of "anti-Assad" camp was over one hundred thousand people today. According to the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russia, "most of them are jihadist mercenaries."
"For example, many of them represent the Arab world: more than two thousand of them are Jordanians, Saudis, Tunisians, Lebanese, and Libyans. There are mercenaries from Western Europe, and the largest recruiting centers of the militants are situated in France, Germany, the UK, and Belgium," he said.
According to Gatilov, active recruitment takes place in the Balkans, primarily in Kosovo and Albania.
"There are also mercenaries, who arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia; according to the UN, there are about 190 Chechens," Gatilov said.
Besides, "there are extremist elements, who came from Pakistan and even Australia, Canada and the USA". According to the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, "these data just show that this is, in fact, a terrorist international, which operates on the territory of Syria, is not subordinate to anyone and puts the only goal of overthrowing Assad’s government and creating an Islamic state based on the norms of Shariah on the territory of Syria."
MFA Russia hopes that negotiations in Geneva-2 format will be continued
The Russian side expects that the second round of the international conference on Syria will not be the last one, and the negotiations will be continued, Gennady Gatilov says.
"Let's hope that the second round will not be the last one and the negotiations will be continued. Anyway, from our part, we are doing everything possible to advance this process, to create a situation at the negotiations that would allow to pass to an objective discussion of issues of the future structure of the Syrian government," he said.
Gatilov made a reservation that "so far, it is premature to talk about some decisions, because they haven’t been made."
However, he noted that "if decisions are ultimately taken, it is logical that they will be covered in a resolution or a decision of the UN. But there is still a long way to go".
Russia proposes to Damascus and opposition to form working groups on topics of negotiations
Russia has proposed to the government and the opposition of Syria to create working groups on the topics related to the Geneva-2 negotiations, Gennady Gatilov says.
"In order to move towards the settlement, it is necessary to solve such issues as ceasefire, humanitarian aspects, and problems of creating a transitional governing body. The solution of these problems requires the establishment of relevant working groups," he said.
According to the senior diplomat, "it is the only way to move forward".
"Concrete efforts are needed for each issue - some can be solved easily, others are more difficult, for example, the creation of a transitional governing body. But this does not mean that we should focus only on one issue and ignore the others. We believe that we should at least try to move in several directions," - the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russia said.
Answering the question, whether representatives of Russia, the USand UN will participate in these working committees, Gatilov said that neither Russia nor the United States were part of the negotiation process.
"The talks are conducted by two Syrian delegations, and first of all it is their task to form such groups through the mediation of the UN. For its part, Russia is ready to help; to help moving in the right direction," the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister noted.
"But we are not going to act, replacing the Syrian delegation. They have a clear task - to come to an agreement on the basis of mutual understanding and consent on all topics of interest for them. We are ready to help them," he said.
US intending to seek extended representation of Syrian opposition at Geneva-2
The US continues to work with the Syrian opposition groups in order to ensure that the delegation of the opposition at the forthcoming negotiations is expanded, Gennady Gatilov says.
"They (the Americans) continue to work with opposition groups in order to ensure that at the forthcoming negotiation rounds, additional or other groups are also included in the opposition delegation. That can be welcomed", Gatilov said.
According to Gennady Gatilov, American diplomats admit that at the first round of the Geneva-2 the opposition delegation was not sufficiently representative.
"If they (the US) really achieve such a result, and the delegation of the opposition becomes representative enough to make a decision on any particular issue, that would indicate progress and moving forward", the Deputy Minister believes.
"There is information that the government and opposition are ready to exchange written guarantees of solving this issue. Let's hope that it will be done", - Gatilov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Deliveries of humanitarian aid to various areas of the country, in particular, to Homs, were discussed by the delegations of the government and the opposition at the Geneva-2 conference. The first round of the inter-Syrian negotiations ended on January 31. However, the issue of humanitarian convoys’ passage in the Homs area was not completely settled.
"However, as far as we know, the negotiations are going on with the mediation of the UN. Perhaps in the future, a solution to this humanitarian problem will be found", - Gatilov stressed.
Syrian militants have put forward additional conditions for delivery of humanitarian assistance to some areas of the country and may continue armed struggle after receiving assistance, Gatilov says.
"The demands of the opposition come to humanitarian aid to be delivered, but the problem of laying down arms by armed groups is not at issue. There is great probability that after the delivery of humanitarian aid there, these groups will continue their armed struggle, which is what the government fears," Gatilov said.
"Unfortunately, the final decision on the delivery of the humanitarian assistance was not reached, although a few options have already been proposed by the government forces. First of all, it’s withdrawal of the civilian population, delivery of humanitarian assistance there, withdrawal of the militants from the city. Unfortunately, every time, the militants put forward different conditions regarding the operation," the diplomat stressed. At the same time, he noted that the negotiations between the parties are going on with the mediation of the UN.
The government and the opposition in Syria had failed to agree on the lists for the exchange of prisoners, Gatilov said.
"The opposition has handed the list of persons detained by the government. But the government has also requested the opposition to produce a list of persons who are detained by them. So far, the opposition has not presented such a list. But we believe that this issue could be resolved with the good will of both parties," the senior diplomat said.
Exchange of prisoners between the government and opposition forces is considered as one of the stages at the negotiations of the parties. This issue was discussed at the first round of the inter-Syrian discussions in the framework of the Geneva-2 conference. Russia, the US and the UN took part in this work, too.
Russia stayed committed to its stance on Syria in a dispute with the West over delays in the elimination of Syria's chemical arsenal, saying that a June deadline could still be met. In an interview with Reuters, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was no need to put "political pressure" on Damascus because the delays were the result of a difficult security situation and logistical issues.
The operation to dispose of Syria's stockpile under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States is up to two months behind schedule and a deadline for sending all toxic agents out of Syria this week will be missed.
Earleir in the week US officials accused Damascus of dragging its feet and US Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Friday to put pressure on Assad's government to accelerate the operation.
"We have heard a lot of public statements from representatives of Western countries and international organisations who have cast this issue in a somewhat alarming light," Ryabkov said. "We think there are no grounds for this."
"It was clear from the very beginning that overly tight schedules established last year for the removal of chemicals from Syria would shift," he said, while offering assurances the June 30 deadline for completing the operation can still be met.
"This was linked to the drawn-out process of delivering the materials and equipment needed for this absolutely unprecedented operation," Ryabkov said. "It is also linked, of course, to the very difficult security situation."
Despite sharp differences, Russia and the United States have joined forces to initiate peace talks and to pressSyria to eliminate its chemical arsenal after a poison gas attack that killed hundreds near Damascus in August.
Ryabkov also asserted that "Damascus is approaching this process in an extremely responsible way."
"I see complete commitment on the part of the country's leadership ... to fulfilling these agreements," Ryabkov said. "The pace is another thing, and after all we are only at the very beginning of February, and there is certainly enough time to do everything that is planned."
Russia hopes shipments out of Syria will continue soon, he said, adding that Damascus was concerned about security and suggesting Moscow thought its requests for more equipment legitimate.
"These are reasonable, serious considerations, so it would probably be wrong to apply political pressure on the Syrians, heating up the situation and politicising this whole process," said Ryabkov.
Russia is helping escort shipments out and has supplied 75 trucks and armoured vehicles to transport toxic agents to the port of Latakia for removal for destruction abroad, but Ryabkov said Russian personnel were not involved in the convoys.
"One of the reasons why the volume of toxic materials that has been sent out is not as substantial as many would have hoped is that the security situation does not allow the Syrians to intensify this process," he said.
He gave no specific details but said Russia and all those who were in contact with groups that influence forces opposing the government must work with them to avoid attacks or other efforts to undermine the process.
Voice of Russia, RIA, Reuters