Both the Syrian government and opposition have expressed their concerns about a proposed round of international peace talks aimed at ending the country’s 31-month crisis, with the government saying any solution must come from Syrians only, while the opposition has demanded that Iran be declared an “occupier” of the country.
The Syrian government said on Sunday that comments made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry regarding how Washington and its allies share the goal of a handover of power, could cause the proposed peace talks to fail.
The Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement issued that remarks by Kerry “are a flagrant violation of Syrian affairs and an aggression against the Syrian people’s right to decide their future”.
Kerry said in Cairo on Sunday that Washington and its allies may differ over “tactics” on the conflict, but they shared the goal of a handover of power “that can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future”.
Also on Sunday, the Syrian opposition set terms for attending the peace talks in Geneva, in a move that throws the proposed conference into further confusion after joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said there should be no preconditions.
The long-delayed talks, known as Geneva 2, are meant to bring Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table, but have been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between world powers, divisions among the opposition and the irreconcilable positions of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels.
Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba said the opposition would not attend unless there was a clear timeframe for President Assad to leave power. He also said they could not accept the presence of Iran.
“We have decided not to enter Geneva talks unless it is with dignity, and unless there is a successful transfer of power with a specific timeframe, and without the occupier Iran at the negotiating table,” Jarba told an emergency meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers in Cairo.
Lakhdar Brahimi has said he hoped the conference could still be held in the next few weeks, despite the obstacles.
Kerry has been working with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Brahimi to convene peace talks in Geneva aimed at bringing in a transitional government in Syria.
“If the United States is sincere in its cooperation with Russia, Kerry must understand that only the Syrian people have the right to choose their political future, without foreign intervention,” Syria’s foreign ministry said in the statement.
“The success of Geneva II depends solely on the Syrians’ willingness to reach an agreement amongst each other to put an end to violence and terrorism, and to reach a political solution,” the statement said.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime has brushed aside calls for his removal from power, branding peaceful opponents and armed rebels alike as “terrorists”.