During a phone call, Kerry disclosed to French officials that his unilateral talks with Lavrov did not lead to “tangible” or positive results. This prompted the French officials to stress the need to achieve political progress in terms of the Geneva Statement issued by the Action Group for Syria in June last year.
However, a consensus has yet to be reached on aspects of the statement, specifically when it comes to the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad. While the opposition, supported by Arab and Western capitals, believe that he cannot have a place in the transitional period, Moscow stresses that “the Syrian people [should] decide his fate.”
An official French source told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the negotiations with Moscow are still at standstill,” especially when it comes to compiling a list of Syrians from both the opposition and the regime who would participate in the transition period. The French president, François Hollande, proposed this move to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in Moscow on March 1.
There is a sense of frustration in Paris over divisions in the Syrian opposition that resulted from the resignation of Moaz Al-Khatib, the former president of the Syrian National Coalition, and “reservations” surrounding the appointment of George Sabra, the coalitions’ acting president. There is also an ongoing struggle to cope with the dispersion of the armed opposition and its inability to form a unified front. However, the Al-Nusra Front’s pledge of allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s Ayman Al-Zawahiri was the final straw for France, prompting its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to state that it “does not mind” referring the issue of the Al-Nusra Front to the UN Security Council.
In this respect, Michael Mann, chief spokesperson to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, has refused to comment on talks taking place between Al-Khatib and those opposing him within the coalition, stating to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the EU’s stance is clear as far as working to provide support to them [the opposition]. The EU supports the work of Lakhdar Brahimi and we have already supported Al-Khatib’s call for dialogue in order to find a solution for the status quo.”
Another French source told Asharq Al-Awsat that if the opposition wants to propose itself as a “serious alternative” to the existing regime, it “urgently needs” to stand together.
Paris believes the opposition suffers from an “absence of a clear vision” when it comes to the relationship needed between the coalition and the interim government formed by Ghassan Hitto. It hopes that the coalition’s meeting, which is scheduled for early May, succeeds in naming a new president and defining the relationship between the political authority and the military leadership represented by the Free Syrian Army’s chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris.