- Talks must avoid `any foreign interference,' al-Muallem says
- UN backing new peace talks for Syria in Geneva in January
Syria’s foreign minister said the government is willing to join talks aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war as the United Nations pushes to revive negotiations next month.
“Syria is ready to participate in Syria dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference, and our delegation will be ready as soon as we receive a list of the opposition delegation,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in Beijing on Thursday after meeting his Chinese counterpart.
Al-Muallem’s comments include conditions that could ultimately keep the government of President Bashar al-Assad out of the peace talks, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.
“They cannot publicly shun the process because it’s pushed by the Russians, their main backers,” Nader said. “They have to say, ‘We are going.”’
At the same time, points of contention remain, including what opposition groups will be represented at the talks, and “this could lead to stopping the process before it starts,” Nader said.
Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing a political resolution to the four-year-old conflict, beginning with peace talks in early January. It calls for a transitional government within six months and elections within 18 months, but sidestepped a list of divisive issues topped by Assad’s fate.
The U.S., Europe and Saudi Arabia insist Assad must go as part of any settlement. Iran and Russia are backing the Syrian leader. The conflict has killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced almost 11 million, according to the UN.
“We hope this dialogue will be successful to help us in having a national unity government,” al-Muallem said. He said the Syrian government would form a committee to draft a new constitution and election law so voting can be held within 18 months.
— With assistance by Andrew Davis, and Nick Wadhams