Beirut, Astana – Threats and revelations triumphed Monday at the opening session of the Syrian talks held in Astana’s Kazakhstan, while sources from inside the International Meeting uncovered the presence of disputes concerning which factions would be listed as terrorists and which groups would be tasked to fight them. Another dispute is related to whether Iran could be named as a “guarantor” to the ceasefire along with Russia and Turkey.
Syrian opposition official and commander at the Free Syrian Army Mohammed al-Shami spoke on Monday about some leaks related to the presence of a Turkish-Russian agreement to start a transitional political operation in Syria without coming near the person of Bashar Assad.
This agreement also stipulates the formation of a “national government” that does not mean the complete removal of the current Syrian regime.
Al-Shami told Germany’s news agency that no agreement was reached to list opposition groups that would be tasked with the mission of fighting terrorist factions, of which the Astana meeting is expected to issue a list.
“The dispute is particularly related to which groups will be mentioned in the list of terrorist factions,” he said.
According to Al-Shami, the opposition asked that in addition to ISIS, the list should include 40 Shi’ite factions that involve Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” and the Syrian Democratic Army. “Things remain unclear,” the FSA commander said.
Al-Shami added that the Russians want to play a neutral role in the meeting and that Moscow is keen on preserving the talks between the Syrian regime and opposition groups.
The first day of the international meeting on Syrian Settlement ended on Monday with a “limited satisfaction” concerning a draft statement that participants started to discuss awaiting the announcement of the final agreement on Tuesday.
Opposition member Abdelrahman al-Hajj asserted that the draft statement includes unacceptable items such as the attempts to impose Iran, which is a main part of the war, as a “monitor and a guarantor” of the ceasefire. Al-Hajj told Asharq Al-Awsat that the opposition also refuses the presence of Iran’s militias in Syria with their excuse of fighting terrorism.
Rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told AFP the opposition backed out of the first round of direct talks in Astana because of the regime’s continued bombardment and attacks on a flashpoint area near Damascus.
Chief rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush and Syria’s U.N. ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari each delivered a statement in the opening session that led to a war of words between the two men.
Opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moscow was not pleased with Jaafari’s statement.
Al-Jaafari had described Alloush to journalists as head of the “delegation of the armed terrorist groups” and saying his speech was “irrelevant” and “delivered with bad manners.”
The sources said that the main talks focused on the issue of militias that are fighting along the Syrian regime, and which are estimated at around 62 groups. “The opposition asked that those groups leave Syria in return of a possibility of fighting Jubhat Fatah al-Sham, a suggestion that was rejected by Iran,” the sources said.
Negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana kicked off on Monday at the Rixos Hotel. And although the two delegations were expected to hold direct talks, opposition factions decided at the last minute not to sit face-to-face with the regime. Therefore, a session of indirect negotiations began after 1200 GMT following a short break.
Opening the talks, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov told delegates that it was up to all those concerned to make the breakthrough “that the Syrian people deserve.”
Chief rebel negotiator Mohammed Alloush told the opening session on Monday: “We came here to reinforce the ceasefire as the first phase of this process. We will not proceed to the next phases until this actually happens on the ground.”
For his part, al-Jaafari told the meeting that the ceasefire should be consolidated for a limited period and that its purpose should be to separate banned extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front from groups willing to take part in “national reconciliation” and the “political process.”
Russia and Turkey have lately worked hand-in-hand and both countries try to secure an end to the war in Syria.