Syria Opposition Seeks Russia Role in Barring Assad Aides

  • HNC has compiled list of security officials for blacklisting
  • Russia can work with regime's `clean hands,' opposition says

Syria’s main opposition bloc is calling on Russia to use its influence to bar top security officials from office in a transitional government, offering President Bashar al-Assad’s ally the chance to maintain its prominent role in the country.

“Russia can play a major part in finding a solution to the fate of Bashar al-Assad and those close to him who are responsible for the genocide in Syria,” Farah al-Atassi, spokeswoman for the High Negotiations Committee, said in an interview Monday in Geneva. “It is in Russia’s interests to build bridges with revolutionary forces. Russia can be part of the solution, it has influence on Assad.”

Assad is coming under pressure to provide his alternative to opposition proposals at United Nations-led peace talks, which include a demand for his resignation. The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who met the Syrian government delegation Monday, said they told him it was “premature” to discuss a political transition.

Syrian authorities have indicated they will accept only a limited role for the opposition in a national unity government, and that discussing Assad stepping down is a “red line.” The negotiations, expected to last several months, mark the most serious effort yet to end a five-year war that has killed a quarter million people, sparked a refugee exodus to Europe and given Islamic State a safe harbor.

Moscow Visit

Russia’s decision to pull most of its forces from Syria and the success of a partial cease-fire have given the talks new momentum. But the sides remain far apart on major issues barring progress, notably Assad’s fate. With the current round due to end March 24, the focus shifts to Moscow later this week when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits for meetings with Russia’s leadership.

“The cessation of hostilities is by and large still holding and the same is more or less for the movement on humanitarian aid, but neither of the two can be sustained if we don’t get progress on the political transition,” de Mistura warned.

Any discussion of Assad’s future “is out of the question,” Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, told reporters Monday after meeting the UN envoy. While describing the upcoming Kerry talks in Moscow as “important,” Jaafari said that the Syrians must decide their own fate “without outside interference.”

The HNC for its part urged President Vladimir Putin to help move talks forward. “We do hope that Russia will use its influence to pressure Assad’s regime to participate in serious negotiations on political transition,” senior negotiator Yahya Al-Kodmani said Sunday.

Assad and top security officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people must leave office under a transitional government, the HNC said in its proposals to the UN. The U.S. has softened its demands for the immediate ouster of the Syrian leader, saying he can’t be part of Syria’s political future.

‘Dead Horse’

The HNC has compiled a list of high-ranking military, security and intelligence officials who can have no role in future government, said al-Atassi. The document is confidential and hasn’t been submitted yet to the negotiations.

“We need to change this regime, to end the domination of these intelligence and military people,” she said. “There are a lot of ‘clean hands,’ good professional qualified people within the regime that can be our partners in the transitional period.”

Major powers have endorsed a road-map that would establish a transitional governing body including opposition and government members with full executive powers within six months. This would lead to internationally supervised elections under a new constitution a year later.

Russia has called on the HNC to avoid “ultimatums” and show more flexibility, while noting that the opposition bloc is playing a constructive role compared to an aborted first round of talks this year. Russia has also said opposition groups less hostile to Assad must negotiate in a common delegation alongside the HNC, an idea it rejects.

The Saudi-backed opposition grouping is ready for direct dialogue with Russia, as long as it shows it’s ready to put “real pressure” on Assad, said al-Atassi. “They are betting on a dead horse.”

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