Nine-party Syria talks in Lausanne end without breakthrough

Eight-party Syria talks convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday evening failed to agree on a common strategy with Russia to end the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year.

Kerry was seeking a new path to peace after failing to secure a ceasefire in direct talks with Moscow, one of Syria’s key backers, amid mounting international outrage over the Russian and Syrian bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Kerry hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and seven foreign ministers from the region – from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – weeks after the collapse of a painstakingly crafted U.S.-Russian ceasefire plan that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.

Kerry told reporters there was consensus on a number of options that could lead to a ceasefire, but conceded that there had been some tense moments during Saturday’s talks. “I would characterize this as an example of what we wanted, which was a brainstorming and a very candid first-time discussion,” he said. “A number of ideas came from the number of different ministers as we hoped that might be able to shape some different approaches.”

But the meeting failed to come up with a joint statement or a shared vision on how to move forward.

Russian Foreign Ministry: All talks participants agreed that Syrians must decide own future

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said all participants in talks in Lausanne had agreed Syrians should decide their own future through inclusive dialogue and that the country should remain whole and secular, after the meeting ended without a breakthrough.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that in order for a U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement to succeed and to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries, Syria’s moderate opposition must separate from Jabhat Fatah al Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front, and other “terrorist groups” affiliated with it. “At the same time, it should be understood that operations against terrorists of Islamic State and the Nusra Front will be continued,” the ministry said.

Meeting in London on Sunday

Europe was not represented at the meeting, held in a luxury hotel on Lake Geneva. But France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Kerry and foreign ministers of like-minded nations planned to meet in London on Sunday to discuss Syria. Kerry said parties to the Lausanne talks would contact each other on Monday to follow up.

Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked on a number of ideas. Although no breakthrough had been expected on Saturday, a senior U.S. official said before the meeting that the regional format to the talks could be the basis of a new process. However, a former Western envoy in Syria told Reuters: “I don’t understand (why) the Americans are asking the Russians to talk again. They have made zero concessions. Do the Americans believe Moscow was shaken by the break-off last week and will change behavior now?”

Separately, a Western diplomat in Lausanne said the meeting appeared ill-prepared and vague in its goals, and the list of invitees had been clarified only at the last moment. Earlier, Kerry met separately with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir and with Lavrov to discuss the logistics of the meeting.

It was the first meeting between Kerry and Lavrov since the collapse of a second attempted ceasefire in September. The impending end of the Obama administration is likely to mean a hiatus in U.S. diplomacy while his successor, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, takes up the reins.

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

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6-part talks on Syria to be held on Saturday in Lausanne

The foreign ministers of Russia, the US, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Iran will hold talks over Syria on Saturday in Lausanne, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. It said the foreign ministers had agreed to hold the meeting to consider what further steps could be taken to get a Syria settlement.

A senior State Department official confirmed that Kerry would attend the meeting.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview to CNN on Wednesday that Russia wanted a meeting of the countries “who have direct influence of what is going on in the ground”. Sergei Lavrov attacked the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee as being “absolutely irresponsible” and said that they should not be the only group representing Syrian opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

Syrians vote for parliament while opposition calls elections ‘theater’

Syrians voted in a parliamentary election in government-held areas of the country on Wednesday in what voters called a show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is holding the poll in defiance of opponents seeking to oust him.

The election is going ahead independently of a U.N.-led peace process aimed at finding a political solution to the five-year-long war. The government says it is being held on time in line with the constitution. The opposition says the vote is illegitimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as “flimsy facade” and a “sham”. “We are voting for the sake of the Syrian people and for the sake of Assad. Assad is already strong but these elections show that the people support him and bolster him,” said Hadi Jumaa, a 19-year-old student, as he cast his ballot at his university halls of residence in Damascus.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad casts his vote next to his wife Asma in Damascus. April 13, 2016
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad casts his vote next to his wife Asma in Damascus on April 13, 2016 [photo handout by SANA]

Dozens queued to vote at one polling station where a portrait of Assad hung on the wall. Outside, some danced. With his wife Asma at his side as he went to vote in Damascus, a smiling Assad told state TV that terrorism had been able to destroy much of Syria’s infrastructure but not Syria’s “social structure, the national identity”. It was the first time he had voted in a parliamentary election.

The conflict has killed more than 250,000 and created millions of refugees, splintering Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by the government, an array of rebels, a powerful Kurdish militia, and the Islamic State group. The government views all the groups fighting it as terrorists. The government controls around one third of Syria, including the main cities of western Syria, home to most of the people who have not fled the country. The United Nations puts the number of refugees at 4.8 million. With parliament elected every four years, it is the second parliamentary election held by the government in wartime. Assad was reelected head of state in a presidential election in 2014. Voters are to elect 250 MPs to parliament, which has no real power in Syria’s presidential system. The state is rallying them around the slogan “Your vote strengthens your steadfastness”.

Opposition sees vote as “theater”

The election coincides with the start of a second round of U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva. The opposition delegation is due to meet U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday. The government has said it will be ready to participate from Friday. The diplomacy is struggling to make progress with no sign of compromise over the main issue dividing the sides: Assad’s future. The government had ruled out any discussion of the presidency ahead of the first round of talks last month. “These elections do not mean anything,” said Asaad al-Zoubi, chief negotiator for the main opposition body, the High Negotiations Council. “They are illegitimate – theater for the sake of procrastination, theater through which the regime is trying to give itself a little legitimacy.”

Foreign states opposed to Assad have said the vote is out of line with a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for elections at the end of an 18-month transition. His allies, notably Russia, say it is in line with the constitution. “The decision of the regime to hold elections is a measure of how divorced it is from reality. They cannot buy back legitimacy by putting up a flimsy facade of democracy,” said a spokesperson for the British government. France said the elections were a “sham” organized by “an oppressive regime”. Russia, one of Assad’s main foreign allies, said however that the election was necessary to avoid a power vacuum. “There is understanding already, that a new constitution should emerge as a result of this political process, on the basis of which new, early elections are to be held,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news briefing. “But before this happens, one should avoid any legal vacuum or any vacuum in the sphere of executive power.”

Syrians living in opposition-held areas dismissed the vote. “We used to be forced to cast our vote in sham elections. Now, we are no longer obliged to. After all this killing they want to make a play called elections,” said Yousef Doumani, speaking from the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus. But Shereen Sirmani, who fled to Damascus from the Islamic State-besieged city of Deir al-Zor four months ago, said the election was good for Syria. “We hope they bring people together,” she said. “We support Assad and these elections are a boost for him.”

Source: Reuters

Assad calls parliamentary elections to be held April 13

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree calling for general parliamentary elections that will take place on April 13.

Bashar al-Assad [photo via Wikimedia Commons]
Bashar al-Assad [photo via Wikimedia Commons]

Syria holds a general election every four years, with the previous vote taking place in 2012. The Syrian parliament or People’s Council has 250 members elected for a four year term in 15 multi-seat constituencies.

The majority in the parliament is currently held by the government coalition, with opposition Popular Front for Change and Liberation and independent MPs jointly having 82 seats.

Source: Russia Today