9 February 2013, 14:17

Russia presses for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict

Russia presses for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict
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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and the opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib will soon be coming to Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership. An announcement to this effect by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov came shortly after Damascus rejected the opposition’s terms for much-needed peace talks.

Russia is making a strong effort to persuade the Syrians to end the bloodshed, prevent the destruction of their country and put their heads together to find a mutually-acceptable solution to the conflict.

This week’s attempts by Russia and China to bring the conflicting sides to the negotiation table fell through after al-Khatib told Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich that the opposition would not walk back on its key demand for President Assad to step down before the peace talks can actually start.

As a result, China failed to persuade Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal al-Miqdad to come across.

Meanwhile, Damascus has changed its tack resorting to the tactic of separate meetings with some of the more compromise-minded opposition leaders.

In an interview with the Voice of Russia, Said Gafurov, a senior expert at the Institute of Applied Oriental and African Studies in Moscow, said the Syrian government entrusted this task to Dr. Ali Heider, a prominent oppositionist who was recently invited to take up the post of National Settlement Minister in the country’s coalition government.

The idea is to strike separate deals with the opposition leaders after which the territories under their control would effectively become “no-fire” zones.

Despite the apparent lack of a consensus between Damascus and the opposition, the idea of such talks is getting increasingly popular on both sides of the conflict, says Veniamin Popov, another Moscow-based foreign policy expert.

"Negotiations are the only way out of the impasse now that neither side is strong enough to score a decisive victory. The opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib is ready to talk, which is a good sign... Secondly, this is exactly what the recent summit by the Islamic Cooperation Organization called for..."

Incidentally, the 56-nation ICO, including Russia, which has an observer status there, endorsed UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s proposal to deploy international observers in Syria. The Arab countries and the Islamic nations could be of great help here. Russia, too, is ready to join in as a go-between, Veniamin Popov added.

Nearly two dozen delegations from both sides of the Syrian conflict have come to Moscow since the start of the Syrian conflict. China too is doing a lot of mediating too, unlike all the other permanent members of the UN Security Council and many Arab and European states which prefer to ignore the Syrian government. This is probably the main reason why all efforts to seat the conflicting sides around the negotiation table have so far fallen flat…

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