Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Coalition’s representative to Washington, Najib Al-Ghadban, said on Thursday that the talks will face delays due to Russian failure to convince the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad to accept the outcome of the first round of peace talks, which provide for a transitional period following Assad’s voluntary departure from power.
The second round of peace talks, dubbed Geneva II and originally expected to begin in mid-November, have been hampered by repeated delays as involved parties attempt to decide who can attend the conference and on what conditions.
“The logistical preparations for holding the Geneva II conference have not been completed yet and a period of 20 days will not be enough to complete or formulate a general framework for the international conference,” Ghadban said.
“That the US and Russian foreign ministers want to hold the conference is not enough,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. He added, “There is a need for the regional countries supporting the [Syrian] opposition” to push for the conference as well.
The Coalition representative said that the “Coalition is waiting to learn the results of the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi’s tour in the region,” pointing out that Brahimi “has not met with the Arab leaders who support the [Syrian] revolution yet.”
“The contradictory statements [Brahimi] makes about Assad’s role in the transitional period does not promote the acceleration of the Geneva II conference; rather, they are an impediment to it,” he said.
However, according to officials who spoke to Reuters, “The failure of the main Syrian National Coalition to take a clear stance on the talks is expected to contribute to a delay of up to one month.”
“A clearer picture will emerge when the United States and Russia meet next week, but all indications show that the November 23 goal will be difficult to meet,” Reuters quoted one of the officials involved in preparing for the talks as saying on Thursday.
For his part, Ghadban denied that differing opinions within the Coalition regarding participation in the conference are creating barriers to Geneva II.
“The extreme position adopted by some parties in the opposition [i.e., the Syrian National Council] which reject going to the negotiating table is due to the regime’s own extreme position and its refusal to offer any of the compromises needed to create the right climate for holding the conference,” Ghadban added.
Such compromises include “the release of female prisoners and allowing the establishment of safe zones,” he said.
Speculations about delays facing Geneva II were triggered following comments made by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, who said on Friday that his country does not have specific date for the conference in mind and that the United Nations is the body responsible for scheduling the talks.
For his part, Brahimi acknowledged that the peace talks will not take place if the Syrian opposition refuses to take part.
The Syrian state-run Al-Ba’ath newspaper described the “veteran diplomat’s” visit to Damascus as “positive.”