Assad urged to ‘stop playing games and start serious talks

JEDDAH: Bashar Assad should stop playing games and engage seriously with the UN-sponsored peace process, Yahya Al-Aridi, the Syrian opposition spokesman at the Geneva talks, told Arab News on Tuesday.

Al-Aridi dismissed reports that UN envoy Staffan de Mistura had told the opposition it no longer enjoyed international support and that failed Geneva negotiations would be replaced by a peace and reconciliation conference proposed by Russia.

“The role of the international broker is to facilitate the process and he has no right to decide that this side is with us or not with us,” he said. “We have the strongest thing, which is the will of the Syrian people … which we consider as trust.”

International resolutions were the only regulator for the negotiating process, Al-Aridi said. “We rely on them, and any tactics or attempts to abort this are unacceptable to us.
“The international community remains committed to UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and its implementation through talks in Geneva, not elsewhere.”

Although the Assad regime has again rejected the opposition’s demand for political transition without Assad, Al-Aridi said: “De Mistura has asked both sides to engage without pre-conditions. We have done so.” He said the regime “should stop playing games and take the opportunity to engage in serious negotiation. Political transition is the only way to make Syria safe for our people to come home.”

De Mistura was also reported as saying that regime change in Syria was possible only through the constitution or elections. Al-Aridi replied: “The UN envoy is conducting the talks in Geneva according to the mandate given to him by Resolution 2254. At the heart of the resolution is political transition. This has not changed.”

The opposition’s strategy, he said, “remains the same, to implement Resolution 2254, through negotiations chaired by the UN in Geneva.”

Al-Aridi said later that the delegation of the High Negotiations Committee had many criteria, mainly the demands of the Syrian people. “There are international resolutions through which the main elements of the political transition can be discussed, and no one can evade these criteria and resolutions.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Russia would keep a naval and an air base in Syria capable of carrying out strikes against insurgents if required after a partial military pullout announced by President Vladimir Putin.

The first Russian troops returned home on Tuesday, beginning the withdrawal from a mission widely seen as decisive in swinging the war in Assad’s favor.

The Kremlin has presented the partial pullout of its forces as evidence that its mission in Syria has been largely accomplished.
Some troops were welcomed by small crowds holding patriotic banners in ceremonies with Soviet-era music in the background. Others were greeted by senior military officials.

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