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Middle East

Accusations fly over failure of peace talks

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes a position as he fires his weapon during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Souran in the north Hama countryside February 15, 2014. Picture taken February 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

RIYADH/MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia Monday blamed the Syrian government for the failure of peace talks last week, while Russia said nations backing the rebels were leaning toward trying to end the civil war on the battlefield rather than in talks.

A second round of U.S. and Russian-backed peace talks between regime representatives and the opposition in Geneva broke down Saturday with chief mediator U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi lamenting a failure to advance much beyond agreement on an agenda for a third round later.

The Saudi Cabinet “regretted the failure of the Geneva II talks to reach tangible results,” according to a statement carried by SPA state news agency.

The kingdom “holds the [Syrian] regime responsible for this failure, caused by its obstinacy,” it said, accusing the regime delegation of working to “derail the conference.”

Saudi Arabia staunchly backs the rebels working to oust President Bashar Assad.

The United States also accused Damascus of paralyzing peace negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad’s government was behind the impasse, aided and abetted by Russia and other allies. 

“The regime stonewalled. They did nothing except continue to drop barrel bombs on their own people and continue to destroy their own country,” he said Monday in Jakarta during a trip to Asia and the Middle East.

“And I regret to say they are doing so with increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah and from Russia.”

Pressing Moscow to wring a more flexible stance from Assad, he said that “ Russia needs to be a part of the solution” rather than helping the Syrian leader with arms and other support.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hit back, citing “evidence that certain sponsors of the opposition are starting to create a new structure,” bringing in Assad foes who have left the main opposition National Coalition.

“In other words, a course is being set to move away from the negotiations track and once again place bets on a military scenario,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference after talks with his Eritrean counterpart.

He also faulted the U.S. for failing to ensure the presence of a broadly representative opposition delegation at the Geneva talks, saying that Russia had done its part in getting Assad’s government to the table. 

“ Russia is always being urged to make more of an effort to resolve the Syrian conflict,” Lavrov said. “When we hear that Russia must take some steps, it’s necessary to remember one simple truth: We have done everything we promised.”

Russia has shielded Assad from Western and Arab pressure since the conflict began in March 2011, using its veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions and insisting that his exit from power cannot be a precondition for peace talks. 

Moscow helped Syrian government negotiators resist discussion of a transitional governing body for Syria at the Geneva talks last week by suggesting it endorsed their demands that tackling “terrorism” top the agenda. 

The Syrian government’s efforts to make that a priority were “completely justified” because Syria “is increasingly becoming a magnet for jihadists and Islamic radicals of all stripes,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Moscow has accused the sponsors of the rebels of pushing for “regime change.”

Kerry derided the Syrian government’s insistence that terrorism should be the main focus of the Geneva peace talks.

“Assad himself is a magnet for terrorists,” he said, accusing him of pursuing “state-sanctioned terror against his own people” through indiscriminate bombing, starvation and torture.

The Russian Foreign Ministry praised what it called the “positive intent” of the government delegation at the talks and said Brahimi “should not stray toward unilateral accusations and place responsibility for the stalled dialogue on one side.” 

 

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Summary

Saudi Arabia Monday blamed the Syrian government for the failure of peace talks last week, while Russia said nations backing the rebels were leaning toward trying to end the civil war on the battlefield rather than in talks.

"In other words, a course is being set to move away from the negotiations track and once again place bets on a military scenario," Lavrov said at a joint news conference after talks with his Eritrean counterpart.

He also faulted the U.S. for failing to ensure the presence of a broadly representative opposition delegation at the Geneva talks, saying that Russia had done its part in getting Assad's government to the table.

Kerry derided the Syrian government's insistence that terrorism should be the main focus of the Geneva peace talks.


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