February 4, 2014
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced Tuesday that the Syrian government would attend the second round of the Geneva II peace talks, set to begin February 10 in Geneva. Bogdanov’s statement comes two days after the opposition Syrian National Coalition head Ahmad Jarba confirmed that the Coalition would attend the talks’ second round.
The first week of negotiations in Geneva yielded little tangible progress, and has deepened the longstanding fissures within Syria’s fragile political opposition. Before the talks had even begun, the Syrian National Council (SNC)—one of the most prominent opposition blocs within the Coalition—announced its withdrawal from the Coalition in protest over the umbrella group’s decision to attend Geneva.
Ghassan Mufleh is a prominent SNC member from Syria’s southern Houran region. He previously served 12 years in a Syrian government prison for alleged ties to Syria’s Communist Labor Party, and currently lives in Switzerland.
The regime may have miscalculated by agreeing to attend Geneva in the hopes the opposition would withdraw, but now that they are there, Mufleh tells Abdulrahman al-Masri that diverting attention from a transitional government toward a discussion about humanitarian aid “is exactly what the regime wants.”
Q. Why did the SNC choose not to attend Geneva II?
The SNC’s General Secretariat decided at the end of last year that the group would not attend Geneva II if the international climate remained as it was—with no guarantees that Geneva I would be enforced and with the regime intensifying its attacks against civilians. The United Nations Security Council fails to even issue a statement of condemnation. The international community is content with making promises while not accomplishing anything.
The Syrian flag is painted on stores behind the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Pro-opposition Syrians use a flag dating back to the 1930s, evoking an image of pre-Assad rule.
Q. How do you feel about the first few days of the Geneva II talks?
The regime delegation has refused to lift the siege of Homs; it views Homs’ children as combatants and spies, and says that Homs’ women are participating in “sex jihad.” These negotiations are supposed to be based on trust-building measures—if these kinds of statements are the basis for trust-building, how far do you think we’ll get with the central goal of forming a transitional government with full authority? More than one official from the regime delegation has announced that they won’t accept this and won’t discuss it.
If Geneva II doesn’t end with a Security Council decision based on Chapter 7 [of the UN Charter authorizing the use of force] to implement Geneva I, then it becomes a conference intended to manage the current “Somaliazation” of Syria.”
Q. Syria Information Minister Omar al-Zoubi has stated that “anyone who demands that Assad step aside is living in a fictional world.” What is the regime hoping to get from being at Geneva II?
As I said, Assad and his clique are refusing to implement Geneva I and will try to make Geneva II fail. It was a mistake for the opposition delegation to agree to Lakhdar Brahimi’s initiative to start discussing [humanitarian] conditions in Homs to build trust.
This is exactly what the regime wants—it was supposed to immediately begin discussion of a transitional government. It agreed to attend Geneva as a response to [international] pressure, but it thought that the opposition would withdraw. It also wanted to steer the discussion toward the issue of terrorism, but now that the regime’s relationship with ISIS has been exposed the government’s position became laughable.
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