Syria ready to enter new peace talks

Syria's regime agrees to take part in new peace talks, but conditions participation on which opposition groups attend.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem

Syria's regime said Thursday it was ready to take part in new talks in Geneva aimed at ending the war but appeared to make its participation conditional on which opposition groups attend, AFP reported.

The country’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus "is ready to participate in the Syrian-Syrian dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference".

Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing a proposed peace plan to bring the regime and opposition together for talks in January.

The plan is the result of nearly two months of strenuous efforts among top diplomats from 17 countries, including regime backers Russia and Iran.

But it does not address the sharpest difference between opposition groups and the regime: the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Muallem's comments seemed to indicate government approval of the plan -- but with apparent preconditions.

Syria had rejected "foreign interference", and the government's negotiating team "will be ready as soon as we receive a list of the opposition delegation", he said.

Muallem said Syria was waiting to receive a list of "terrorist organizations" that would not be allowed to participate in the talks.

The UN tasked Jordan with creating the blacklist, which was submitted Friday and apparently included ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.

But Syria's government has systematically referred to all its opponents, including non-Islamist groups, as "terrorists".

A landmark summit in Saudi Arabia earlier this month saw armed and political branches of the opposition agree to talks with Assad's government.

An opposition delegation to future peace negotiations is expected to include the factions present in Riyadh, as well as other groups on the ground in Syria.

The UN resolution calls for talks in early January that would lead to the "establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers" within six months.

But Muallem referred only to an eventual "national unity government".

He said Damascus would "compose a constitutional committee to look for a new constitution with a new law of election so the parliamentary election will be held within the period of 18 months, more or less".

The UN resolution was received coolly by Syrian opposition forces, including the main group in exile, the Istanbul-based National Coalition.

Previous efforts to negotiate a political solution to the nearly five-year conflict have faltered, including the 2014 Geneva talks between the regime and opposition forces.

The opposition insists that Assad step down as part of a political solution. Assad has refused to step down, though he seemed to soften his tone in an interview in October, saying he would not hesitate to step down if that is the solution to the crisis.

AFP contributed to this report.