Middle East

Jarba: Peace talks possible if government is sincere

The head of Syria's opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba (L), reaches out to shake hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) before their meeting at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing on April 16, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)

BEIRUT: National Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba said Wednesday a new round of Geneva peace talks would be possible if the government is “sincere” and urged China to play a bigger role in “stopping the crimes of the Assad regime.”

Jarba made the comments after talks with Foreign Ministry officials in the Chinese capital, during the first visit by the opposition-in-exile group to Beijing, a key backer of the regime of President Bashar Assad.

A statement issued by the Coalition said its delegation had gained the sense that China’s stance on the conflict in Syria had begun to exhibit a change. The statement said Jarba told his Chinese hosts that their country should pressure Damascus to embrace a political solution to end the conflict.

Beijing routinely voices opposition to interference in other countries’ domestic affairs and strongly opposes foreign military action over Syria, regularly calling for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“This is the first time for us to visit China and we have placed our hope on it,” Jarba told Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“If the Syrian government is sincere, the National Coalition is willing to join the third round of talks in Geneva,” he added.

Wang, for his part, said Syria had reached a “critical moment” as the world awaits news of fresh peace talks. “The international community has been expecting a third round of talks and China would like to contribute,” he added, referring to an expected resumption of negotiations following two abortive rounds of peace talks in Switzerland.

Along with Russia, China has given key diplomatic backing to Assad, using its veto in the U.N. Security Council to block several draft resolutions against his regime.

Wang said China continued to stay in communication and dialogue with all parties.

“China’s attention to the Syria issue is in the long-term collective interests of the Syrian people, and will help safeguard peace and stability in the Middle East,” Wang said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 17, 2014, on page 8.


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