Geneva talks won’t focus on political transition in Syria

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The Syrian government delegation arrive at the UN headquarters in Geneva. File photo: BBC

The office of the UN special envoy to Syria has declined to confirm whether a political transition will be discussed at the forthcoming talks in Geneva.

The development means Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s future will be off the agenda and the main focus of the meeting in the Swiss city will be governance, a new constitution and elections.

Staffan de Mistura, the envoy, is due to convene the new round of talks among Syrian factions in Geneva on February 23, after negotiations collapsed almost nine months ago.

A spokesman for De Mistura said he was still finalising who would come to the meeting but there were already positive responses to invitations that had gone out.

Countries opposed to Assad, including the US, back efforts by the UN to broker a political solution to the conflict, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said on Friday.

“It is clear that all who met want a political solution … and that this political solution must be achieved in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations and that there cannot be any parallel negotiations,” Gabriel said after a meeting in Bonn that included the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France and Britain.

The countries were meeting for the first time since Donald Trump took office as US president in a bid to find common ground in advance of the Geneva meeting.

Gabriel said Rex Tillerson, the new US secretary of state, played an active role in the discussions about how to end the war in Syria, which took place on the sidelines of a meeting in Bonn, Germany, of G20 foreign ministers.

Tillerson, trying to reassure allies that the US was not tilting towards Russia over the Syrian conflict, told them that the US backed UN efforts to broker a political solution to the war, officials and diplomats said.

He also said military ties with Russia depended on its stance towards rebels fighting the Assad government, who Russia backs.

All eyes have been on the US and its approach to ending the violence in Syria, given promises by Trump to build closer ties to Russia.

Speaking alongside Gabriel, Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said the Geneva talks would ultimately fail if Russia did not use its influence on the Syrian government and Iran to stop labelling all those opposed to Assad as “terrorists”.

Agencies 

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