Inside Syria

Syria: Talking about peace talks

We look at the hurdles facing the warring parties ahead of the upcoming negotiations in Geneva.

Last updated: 19 Jan 2014 10:42
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The Syrian National Coalition is meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul to decide whether to attend peace talks in Switzerland which are due to take place in a few days.

Meanwhile, the US secretary of state has urged all sides to attend next week's talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. But the Syrian government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition do not seem to agree on the agenda.

The real position of the Syrian government can probably be known better by the nature of the delegation that is being sent .... this mainly tells you who the Syrian government thinks they will be sitting with and what they think they will be talking about  - this is foreign affairs.

Ammar Waqqaf, a Syrian political activist

The major sticking point between the two sides is whether the talks should lead to a transitional government.

The Syrian regime appears to be giving some ground - at least diplomatically. In a news conference held in Moscow on Friday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said his government supports the international peace conference known as Geneva II.

He also said he has given Russia, Syria's biggest ally, plans for a ceasefire in Aleppo, where fighting has been raging for months.

"Taking into the account the role of the Russian Federation in ending the bloodshed in Syria, as well as our trustworthy relations, I have handed Minister Lavrov today a plan of security measures in Aleppo. In that regard I asked Minister Lavrov to use his contacts to implement this plan and to establish a specific time when all military actions in this area should be ceased," he said.

Muallem went on to suggest the regime would be interested in a prisoner swap - if the rebels were willing to cooperate.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said at the Moscow conference: "We want the upcoming conference to put an end to the bloodshed and ensure that Syria does not become a hotbed of terrorism. We hope that an agreement will be reached where peace is established and all ethnic groups in the country have equal rights," 

Syria is and always has been a largely multi-ethnic nation and these ethnic groups will need to bridge the deep divisions among them, and prevent even greater sectarian unrest if Bashar al-Assad's government falls.

Some of the groups in Syria include Sunni Arabs who make up 74 percent of Syria's total population, while Sunni Kurds make up 10 percent; Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam to which president Bashar al-Assad belongs, roughly account for 13 percent of Syria's population of 22 million; 10 percent of the population is Christian and three percent is Druze.

So what are the prospects for future peace in war-torn Syria? And who will attend the Geneva II peace talks?

Inside Syria presenter Adrian Finighan is joined by Ammar Waqqaf, a Syrian political activist who supports the Syrian government; Joshua Landis, the director of the Centre for Middle East Studies and a professor at the University of Oklahoma; and Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Syrian Centre for Political And Strategic Studies. Ziadeh is also the head of the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice.

"Diplomacy is very important even though there is considerable chaos but the world has to - and particularly the leading European powers - have to push all of the international community together to begin to make deep compromises on every side. It is quite clear that the ambitions of the beginning of this revolution which was to turn overturn the Syrian government and to set up some kind of democratic regime in Syria, have been frustrated.

Joshua Landis, the director of the Centre for Middle East Studies  


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