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Syrian opposition to boycott Geneva II - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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President of the Syrian National Council (SNC) George Sabra (C) and members of Syrian National Council attend a press conference at the end of Syrian Opposition meeting on May 30, 2013 in Istanbul. Syria's main opposition group said it will not take part in proposed US-Russia peace talks while key allies of President Bashar al-Assad's regime are waging war alongside government forces. AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

President of the Syrian National Council (SNC) George Sabra (C) and members of the SNC attend a press conference at the end of a Syrian Opposition meeting on May 30, 2013, in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has announced that it will boycott the Geneva II conference scheduled for July unless a settlement is reached leading to Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster.

George Sabra, the SNC’s acting president, announced that the coalition “will not take part in any international conferences,” because “the lives of Syrians are more important than any political solutions.”

Although the details of the proposed summit remain vague, Russia’s Interfax News Agency quoted a Russian foreign ministry source who confirmed that a joint US–Russia–UN meeting on Syria is set to be held on July 5 in Geneva. The source claimed that a high-level delegation will represent Russia in the tripartite meeting in preparation for Geneva II.

The source claimed that Mikhail Bogdanov, deputy minister of foreign affairs and special envoy for Vladimir Putin, will head the Russian delegation.

UN under-secretary-general Jeffrey Feltman will lead the UN delegation.

The US State Department said US under-secretary of state Wendy Sherman will represent Washington.

Russian sources also claimed that Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Syria envoy, will also most likely participate in the meeting.

In a further development, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov described the SNC’s insistence on “Assad’s departure as a precondition for any political settlement in Syria” as “unrealistic.”

In a joint press conference with the Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, Lavrov accused the SNC of making every effort to undermine all political solutions and misleading public opinion by justifying foreign intervention in Syria. 

Following week-long talks in Istanbul, the SNC issued a statement confirming that the participation of the Syrian opposition in any conference depends on setting a time limit for a solution to be reached and providing binding international guarantees.

The SNC also said it welcomes all international efforts towards a political solution to the two-year-old conflict, providing it conforms to the principles of the revolution.

When asked whether the SNC will participate if Assad refuses to step down, opposition leader Samir Nashar told Asharq Al-Awsat that “such talk is premature, particularly as the countries calling for the conference have not agreed on basic issues nor set the date [for the conference] yet.”

“We will take a decision when we have the whole picture,” he added.

Commenting on Lavrov’s criticisms of the Syrian opposition, Nashar said: “We do not expect a different stance from Russia, which continues to send weapons to the [Assad] regime.”

Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, said on the sidelines of Tehran’s international conference on Syria that his country has been informally invited to attend Geneva II, but it will decide after it has received a formal written invitation.

“We will not let the Syrian regime fall, and we strongly support the Syrian people—both regime and opposition supporters who believe in political solutions,” Abdollahian said.

In the interview he gave to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, Assad said that his regime will take part in the talks next month, although he does not have big expectations “because there are states that are obstructing the meeting in principle.”

Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem told the pro-Assad Al-Mayadeen TV that the outcome of Geneva II will be put to a public referendum and “if Syrians accept [the outcome], it will be fully put into effect.”

If the conference agrees to form a transitional government, the decision will be put to public referendum, Muallem said.

In related news, there has been an upsurge in fighting surrounding the strategic town of Qusayr. Backed by Hezbollah fighters, pro-Assad forces are reported to have scored gains in the town, urging Syrian opposition figures to call for the international community to take immediate steps to rescue civilians.