BEIRUT: The head of the Syrian opposition turned down an official invitation to Moscow for talks with Russian officials, which would have coincided with a visit by Syrian government officials.
Ahmad Jarba, the president of the National Coalition, was “very interested” in traveling to Moscow but had other commitments, according to a spokesperson. Monzer Aqbiq told AFP that Russia had invited Jarba for three days of talks beginning Monday.
Jarba “expresses a high interest in the coalition for relations and talks with Russia as well as his interest in visiting Moscow for talks,” Aqbiq said. “But the opposition leader “regretted” being unable to visit due to “preset official commitments.”
The comments came a day before a Syrian government delegation was set to arrive in Moscow.
Moscow and the coalition will “coordinate ... a new date for a visit,” Aqbiq added.
The government’s delegation will be made up of President Bashar Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad, and Ahmad Arnous, the ministry’s senior official on European affairs.
The visit is set to take place ahead of a proposed Geneva II peace conference, which aims to bring government and opposition representatives to the negotiating table.
The opposition has accepted the notion of attending Geneva II on the condition that Assad’s departure from power is part of the discussions, and that emergency relief operations are put in place to relieve the suffering of Syrians inside the country.
The comments on Jarba’s schedule also came one day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the coalition as a group that “has no constructive platform” to offer the Syrian people except for a change in government.
Quoted in the ITAR-TASS news agency, Lavrov said, “the National Coalition [for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces] is not the only mechanism of the Syrian opposition.”
The coalition consists mainly of people who emigrated from Syria to Europe and other countries a long time ago. They are now concerned with working out their position because apart from changing the regime they have no constructive platform to offer to the Syrian population,” Lavrov said, speaking on the Postkriptum television program Saturday.
“I do not think they have much support within Syria because the structures operating there are made up not of emigrants but of those who have never left Syria and who work in the opposition that is not loyal to the regime.”
Speaking last week in the Russian capital, Syria’s former deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, welcomed the coalition’s decision to attend Geneva but said “we do not even agree with Russia that only one delegation should be invited. There can be no common platform for the opposition.”
Shortly after holding a meeting with State Department officials, Jamil was dismissed late last month for acting without the knowledge of the authorities in Syria.
Jamil has been delegated to represent the Syria-based opposition in any Geneva conference.