Syria UN envoy Jaafari: Moscow cannot pressure Damascus

Top Syrian government negotiator says US-Russian meeting in Moscow will not affect his country’s stance on peace talks.

U.S. Foreign Secretary John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Kerry will meet Lavrov and Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday for talks [Michael Dalder/Reuters]

No foreign power should be allowed to interfere in ongoing Syria peace talks in Geneva, its government negotiator said, as John Kerry, the US secretary of state, landed in Russia seeking answers on plans for President Bashar al-Assad. 

Syrian envoy Bashar al-Jaafari denied that high-level US-Russian meetings in Moscow would affect Syria’s peace process in an interview with the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

“When we say that the dialogue must be between Syrians, without outside intervention, this also applies to the Russians and Americans,” Jaafari said.

Jaafari, who serves as Syria’s ambassador to the UN in New York, said believing that Moscow can pressure its ally in Damascus amounted to a “misreading” of the situation.

His comments came as Kerry arrived in Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

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Now that a fragile truce in Syria is in place and warring sides have begun peace talks in Geneva, Kerry wants to “get down to brass tacks” on the question of Assad, a US State Department official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity before the meeting at the Kremlin. 

Russia has repeatedly said that only the Syrian people can decide Assad’s fate at the ballot box, and has bristled at any talk of removing the Syrian government. 

Negotiations in Geneva, entering a tenth day on Wednesday, were rattled last week by Russia’s surprise decision to withdraw most of its troops from Syria, a move analysts say could help peace efforts by weakening Assad’s position.

The meetings in Moscow on Thursday are expected to touch on a fragile ceasefire declared on February 27, which has raised hopes for an end to the five-year Syrian conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, and forced millions to flee their homes, according to the UN. 

READ MORE: Russia threatens force against Syrian truce violators 

The State Department official played down expectations that the meetings would have an immediate effect on peace talks.

“Obviously what we are looking for – and what we have been looking for – is how we are going to transition Syria away from Assad’s leadership,” the official said.

Al Jazeera’s Whitney Hurst, reporting from Geneva, said Jaafari gave a statement after meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, in which he condemned the attacks in Brussels and described them as the result of failed counterterrorism policies.

There has been no confirmation that the attackers in Brussels had fought in Syria, but the cell that carried out November’s Paris attacks had fought with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the country.

Syrians protest to mark the fifth anniversary of the war's start [EPA]
Syrians protest to mark the fifth anniversary of the war’s start [EPA]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies