Photographer: AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP/Getty Images

Assad Foes Seek Purge of Security Officials in Proposal to UN

  • Syria leader `not accepted in any process,' HNC spokesman says
  • Opponents ready for dialogue with Russia on Syria future

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and top security officials responsible for civilian deaths must leave office under a transitional government, the main opposition bloc said in proposals to United Nations-led peace talks.

“The only person that is really not accepted in any process is Assad and a few people who are involved in killing Syrians,” Salem al-Muslet, the chief spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, said in an interview in Geneva on Saturday. The HNC isn’t opposed to some ministers and officials who “have not taken any decision against the Syrians,” he said.

Proposals for reorganizing the security forces, including giving the opposition a role, were included in a paper that the Saudi-backed HNC gave to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, al-Muslet said. The document was part of renewed peace talks aimed at ending a five-year war that has killed a quarter of a million people, sparked a refugee exodus to Europe and given Islamic State a safe harbor.

Assad’s delegation is still “not serious” about the negotiations, al-Muslet said. Still, “we see things in a very positive way. I am sure we’ll see good results.”

Russia Pull-Out

Russia’s decision to pull most of its forces out of Syria has given the peace talks new momentum. The negotiations resumed March 14 after a partial cease-fire brokered by Russia and the U.S. Still, Syrian authorities have indicated that they will accept only a limited role for the opposition in a national unity government, and that discussing the possibility of Assad stepping down is a “red line.”

The HNC is prepared to hold talks with Russian officials about Syria, al-Muslet said. Russia’s military intervention last year turned the tide of the civil war in Assad’s favor. The nation has said it’s pursuing strikes against Islamic State and the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front.

The three-week-old cease-fire, which excludes Islamic State and Nusra, is “going the right way” in spite of continued violations by government forces, according to the HNC.

UN Talks

UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura held talks with both the government and opposition delegations on Friday. He aims to reach a “minimum common platform” for political transition by the middle of next week. Assad’s side hasn’t yet presented a vision for the future governance of Syria, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow next week will be “crucial” in moving the process forward, de Mistura said. Kerry may meet President Vladimir Putin and Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov during his trip.

Major powers have endorsed a road-map that would establish a transitional governing body with opposition and government members within six months. That would ensure the “continuity of government institutions,” and lead to internationally supervised elections under a new constitution a year later.

The HNC supports keeping government institutions intact, al-Muslet said. “But when it comes to security and military, there has to be a restructuring.”

Opposition forces would also seek to unite with Syrian government troops to fight Islamic State during the transitional phase, he said. 

“We insist on doing it because we don’t want to see terrorism, not in Syria or in any other country,” he said.

Longer-term, the HNC has proposed amending the Syrian constitution to a parliamentary system. At present, almost all power is concentrated in the hands of the president.

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