Russia Says Assad Delegation Will Join Next Round of Syria Talks

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov
“We have no doubts that the government delegation will take part in the second round of the inter-Syrian negotiations,” Bogdanov told reporters today in the Russian capital. Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will send a delegation to the next round of peace talks, Russia said as the country’s main Western-backed opposition leader visited Moscow.

“We have no doubts that the government delegation will take part in the second round of the inter-Syrian negotiations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told reporters today in the Russian capital.

Ahmad al-Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, said at the start of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the opposition will also attend the negotiations in Geneva, which are planned for Feb. 10. “We have taken a firm decision to take the path of a political resolution,” he said.

Russia, one of the main allies of Assad along with Iran, says the political transition foreseen under a United Nations-sponsored peace plan doesn’t necessarily mean regime change. The opposition insists Assad must go to implement the Geneva I communique agreed on in June 2012 by major powers, which calls for establishment of a power-sharing interim administration.

Syria’s government says the priority is to fight terrorism and stop foreign support for rebel groups. Talks with the opposition in Switzerland last month ended in deadlock, with the two sides unable even to achieve a limited goal of ensuring humanitarian access to the city of Homs.

‘No Answer’

“Imagine Assad disappears: Who is going to keep it together?” Lavrov said Jan. 28 in Brussels, where he was attending a Russia-European Union summit. “There is no answer.”

Last month’s Geneva II talks marked the first negotiations between the opposing sides since the start of the three-year conflict, which has killed more than 130,000 people and forced more than 9 million to flee their homes, according to the UN.

The date for the next meeting hasn’t been set. While the opposition has agreed to resume talks on Feb. 10 in Geneva, the Syrian government delegation has said it will discuss that possibility with the leadership at home, according to UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

“They will receive instructions to return to Geneva and resume the negotiations,” Bogdanov said. “We expect both sides to pursue patient and constructive talks.”

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