Beirut and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Senior Western diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that it has become clear that the “Geneva II” conference on the Syrian conflict will not be held in November as planned.
Russian and American diplomats, as well as others from Syria’s various neighbors, failed to agree on a date for the conference at a series of meetings in Geneva on Tuesday.
UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said that he hoped that the conference would be held “by the end of the year.” He added that a tripartite meeting will be held on November 25, which will include himself, the Americans and the Russians, in an attempt to find a way forward.
Plans for the conference have been dogged by disagreements between the two sides in the conflict, with both the Syrian government and its opponents trading recriminations and seeking to impose their own preconditions before agreeing to talks.
Brahimi said last week that the Syrian government had agreed to attend the Geneva II conference. The Syrian president’s political adviser for political and media affairs, Bouthaina Shaaban said on Tuesday that Damascus would attend Geneva II in order to end the “violence” and “terror” the country was experiencing.
However, other Syrian officials have said that the government was not prepared to negotiate a handover of power to a transitional government, one of the stated goals of the conference.
Meanwhile, a spokesman of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, Louay Safi, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that talk about the possibility of holding the Geneva II conference in November reflected the desires of Lakhdar Brahimi and international parties, and not the realities on the ground in Syria.
The rebel spokesman said the absence of a united international stance and the refusal of the Syrian government to negotiate in good faith were the major obstacles to a settlement of the Syrian crisis.
He said: “If the situation remains the same, the conference will not take place this month or next month.”
Safi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the opposition refused to attend Geneva II unless its conditions were met. These conditions were outlined by Coalition head Ahmad Al-Jarba at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday, and included the adoption of a time-frame for Assad’s departure, and the exclusion of Iran from the conference.
Russia has insisted on Iran’s attendance of the conference. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the opposition’s conditions and said: “We must make sure all parties with who can influence the issue attend…this does not only include Arab countries, it also includes Iran.”
In a related issue, Iranian foreign minister Mohamed Javad Zarif said Tehran could use its influence to encourage foreign fighters in Syria to leave. In an interview with the France 24 TV channel, Zarif said, “Iran is willing to call on all foreign forces to leave Syria. We are prepared to exert pressure for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria.”
Zarif was responding to a question on whether Iran was willing to use its influence on the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian government, to leave Syria.