The gap between the two parties appeared to remain wide, with both refusing to compromise on the positions they staked out ahead of the talks. The government said any resolution on the political future of Syria would have to be ratified by a referendum, while the opposition continued to insist on the departure of President Bashar Al-Assad and his close associates.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition, the largest opposition umbrella group, has been unsuccessful in its efforts to expand the circle of its representatives at Geneva following talks in Cairo with the National Coordination Committee (NCC), another opposition group. The opposition had also pondered the boycott of the second round in Geneva due to the continued government military operations in various areas of Syria.
Opposition member Haytham Al-Malih told Asharq Al-Awsat that the priority for the opposition in Monday’s talks would be the formation of a “transitional governing body,” adding that the Syrian regime would have to adhere to the “six points” which were adopted at Geneva I, the most important of which was the ending of military operations and the release of detainees.
Geneva I, the previous round of international talks on the Syria crisis, was held in the Swiss city in the summer of 2012, and called for the creation of a transitional government in Syria with full sovereign powers and composed of individuals acceptable to both sides.
Another member of the Coalition, Hisham Marwah, said failure to reach an accord with the NCC on including its representatives in the talks did not mean an end to the possibility of reaching an agreement in the future.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that discussions were ongoing with rebel fighters inside Syria, who would have a more important role in implementing any agreement reached at the Geneva II talks.
Marwah said the opposition would insist on giving priority in the talks to the formation of a transitional governing body, which in his opinion would be the key to implementing all other articles.
He added that in addition to talks with the NCC, the Coalition’s visit to Cairo focused on the situation of the Syrian refugees in Egypt, “in light of the harassment they suffer and their need for entry and residence visas, which the Egyptian government promised to try and resolve.”
The Syrian government’s delegation, led by foreign minister Walid Al-Mouallem, arrived in Geneva on Sunday, when Mouallem held a meeting with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Meanwhile, the NCC issued a statement following talks with the Coalition which said: “The negotiations were suspended when it became clear that the Coalition wanted to return to the starting point, and after it became clear that their main concern was adding NCC members to the Geneva delegation, rather than focusing on the points of discussion in the meeting between the two parties.”
The statement added: “The NCC has repeatedly announced that it will not participate in the Geneva conference as part of the Coalition, but as part of a delegation which represents all factions of the Syrian opposition who believe in a peaceful solution, and on the basis of an agreement on a joint political vision for a negotiated political settlement for the crisis in Syria, and after creating a suitable climate for negotiations according to [former UN envoy for Syria] Kofi Annan’s plan, which is an important part of the Geneva declaration.”
Syrian Minister of Information Omran Al-Zoubi announced on the eve of the talks that the government’s delegation had the authority to discuss and negotiate on all issues, but that the decision to accept any results reached in Geneva would be made by the Syrian people in a public referendum.
However, the opposition said: “Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime has no interest in a political solution and does not even want to be offered this option because it favors the military and security solution and the continuation of the violence in Syria.”