EST | Updated: 01/22/2014 2:59 pm EST
Gabriela Baczynska and Stephanie Nebehay
MONTREUX, Switzerland, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Syria's government and opposition,
meeting for the first time, vented their mutual hostility on Wednesday but a
U.N. mediator said the warring sides may be ready to discuss prisoner swaps,
local ceasefires and humanitarian aid.
Russia said the rival sides had promised to start direct talks despite fears
that a standoff over President Bashar al-Assad's fate at the meeting in
Switzerland would halt the push for a political solution to Syria's civil war,
which has killed over 130,000 and made millions homeless.
Even if the sides are willing to talk about limited confidence-building
measures, expectations for the peace process remain low, with an overall
solution to the three-year war still far off.
Western officials were taken aback by the combative tone of Syrian Foreign
Minister Walid al-Moualem at the one-day a U.N. peace conference in Montreux,
fearing follow-up negotiations would never get off the ground due to the
However, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi signalled that both sides were
ready to move beyond rhetoric. "We have had some fairly clear indications
that the parties are willing to discuss issues of access to needy people, the
liberation of prisoners and local ceasefires," he told a news conference.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also told reporters that he had
urged the Syrian government to release detainees as a confidence-building
Russia, which co-sponsored the Montreux meeting with the United States, said
the rival Syrian delegations had promised to sit down on Friday for talks which
were expected to last about seven days.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov played down the recriminations on
Wednesday, when the opposition called for Assad to hand over power - a demand
dismissed by Moualem, who in turn graphically described atrocities by
"For the first time in three years of the bloody conflict ... the sides -
for all their accusations - agreed to sit down at the negotiating table,"
he told reporters.
Lavrov, who said he held talks with Moualem and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed
Jarba on Wednesday, urged the opposition and its foreign backers not to focus
exclusively on leadership change in Damascus.
Wednesday's meeting at an hotel in the lakeside city exposed sharply differing
views on forcing out Assad both between the government and opposition, and
among the foreign powers which fear that the conflict is spilling beyond Syria
and encouraging sectarian militancy abroad.
Jarba accused Assad of Nazi-style war crimes and demanded the Syrian government
delegation sign up to an international plan for handing over power. Moualem
insisted Assad would not bow to outside demands, denouncing atrocities
committed by rebels supported by the Arab and Western states which were present
in the room.
"Hope exists but it's fragile. We must continue because the solution to
this terrible Syrian conflict is political and needs us to continue
discussions," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "Obviously
when we hear Bashar al-Assad's representative, whose tone is radically
different, we know it will be difficult."
Moualem called on foreign powers to stop "supporting terrorism" and
to lift sanctions against Damascus.
Referring to rebel acts, he said: "In Syria, the wombs of pregnant women
are cut open, the foetuses are killed. Women are raped, dead or alive ... Men
are slaughtered in front of their children in the name of the revolution."
He insisted Assad's future was not in question, saying: "Nobody in this
world has a right to withdraw legitimacy from a president or government ...
other than the Syrians themselves."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the rebel view that there is "no
way" Assad can stay under the terms of a 2012 international accord urging
an interim coalition. But Lavrov said all sides had a role and condemned
"one-sided interpretations" of the 2012 pact.
Saudi Arabia, which backs the Sunni rebels, called for Iran and its Shi'ite
Lebanese ally Hezbollah to withdraw forces from Syria. Iran, locked in a
sectarian confrontation across the region, was absent, shunned by the
opposition and the West for rejecting calls for a transitional government. Its
president said Tehran's exclusion meant talks were unlikely to succeed.
The conference has raised no great expectations, particularly among Islamist
rebels who have branded Western-backed opposition leaders as traitors for even
U.N. chief Ban opened proceedings by calling for immediate access for
humanitarian aid convoys to areas under siege.
"After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria,
today is a day of fragile but real hope," Ban said, condemning human
rights abuses across the board. "Great challenges lie ahead but they are
But there was little sign of compromise on the central issue of whether Assad,
who inherited power from his father 14 years ago, should make way for a
government of national unity.
He himself says he could win re-election later this year and his fate has
divided Moscow and Washington. Both endorse the conclusions of the 2012 meeting
of world powers, known as Geneva 1, but differ on whether it means Assad must
Opposition leader Jarba called for the government delegates to turn against
their president before so-called Geneva 2 negotiations start: "We want to
make sure we have a partner in this room that goes from being a Bashar al-Assad
delegation to a free delegation so that all executive powers are transferred
from Bashar al-Assad," the National Coalition leader added.
"My question is clear. Do we have such a partner?"
Lavrov repeated Moscow's opposition to "outside players" interfering
in Syria's sovereign affairs and prejudging the outcome of talks on forming an
interim government. He also said Iran - Assad's main foreign backer - should
have a say.
The Kremlin is wary of what it sees as a Western appetite for toppling foreign
autocrats that was whetted in Libya in 2011. Moscow opposes making Assad's
departure a condition for peace. Speaking of the Geneva Communique, Lavrov
said: "The essence of this document is that mutual agreement between the
government and opposition should decide the future of Syria."
Kerry also spoke of "mutual" agreement among Syrians, but in a sense
that excluded Assad.
"We see only one option - negotiating a transition government born by
mutual consent," he said. "That means that Bashar al-Assad will not
be part of that transition government."
Despite the differences, however, some participants believe common interests in
reining in violence could rally the West, Russia and possibly even Iran behind
some form of compromise.
A last-minute invitation from Ban to Iran was revoked after the Syrian
opposition threatened to boycott the talks - a move that threatened to
undermine months of U.S. and Western efforts to cajole Jarba's National
Coalition into taking part.
President Hassan Rouhani said from Tehran that Iran's exclusion made it
unlikely the conference could succeed.
WAR RAGES IN SYRIA
During the speeches in Montreux, the war went on in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported clashes and
air strikes around the country. Around Damascus, government artillery hit
villages and rebels clashed with the army in the neighbourhood of Jobar on the
northeast fringe of the capital, it said. Activists also reported clashes in Hama,
Aleppo and the southern province of Deraa.
The release of photographs apparently showing prisoners tortured and killed by
the government was cited by Jarba and Western ministers. The Syrian government
rejected the report as not objective and aimed at undermining negotiations.
In Damascus, where life limps on amid bombardments and checkpoints, weary
residents cautiously hope for better.
"I really don't think much will come out of it, but the alternative is no
talks at all, and that's not much better," said Ruba, a mother of two.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles, Gabriela Baczynska, Dominic Evans, Samia
Nakhoul, John Irish, Stephanie Nebehay, Lesley Wroughton and Johnny Cotton in
Montreux Guy Faulconbridge in London and Laila Bassam, Paris Hafezi in Ankara,
Alexander Dziadosz, Oliver Holmes and Stephen Kalin in Beirut; Writing by
Alastair Macdonald and David Stamp, editing by Peter Millership and Giles
superpowers are worried to save the SYRIAN bastard genocide criminal Assad.
save two other genocide criminals Russian top leaders and the rapist uncouth
poodle of Russia Indian authorities. It
is assumed by the political analysts that
because these two country’s Russian and Indian authorities supported the abominable genocide
criminal Assad only to facilitate the
killing of the innocent Syrians like street dogs.
knows that both Russian And Indians kill their citizens like dogs for no
offense of the victims and not only that
they are habitual of hiding such killings by false evidences.
opponents and Indians kill victims after
raping the women’s they hide the murder cases with the help of the Police, Doctors,
Justice department, and Politician’s
active cooperation and help.
uncouth Indian nation of poodles even mercilessly kills female fetus and unborn
female infants in the womb of the women and children .
leaders of the West, EU and UN try to help such criminal country’s authorities.
If the West, EU, and UN have cogent reasons to save Assad and the abettors then
the reasons be revealed to the world community of Nations with out fail.
knows the fact of killing and facilitating the committal of genocide by Assad with
the help of these two famous super powers helpers of committal of genocide.