AMMAN: The Geneva II conference, under way in Montreux, Switzerland, has brought with it a deluge of blunt political back-and-forth between rancorous opponents. Don’t have time to follow the entire story? Elizabeth Parker-Magyar brings highlights from the conference’s first day:
Shortly after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon opened the Geneva II conference in Montreux, Switzerland Wednesday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the conference, criticizing the Syrian government as oppressive and insisting al-Assad would not participate in any future transitional government:
“Tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles. They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition.
…And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.”
Immediately after Kerry’s remarks, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s speech accusing the West of supporting terrorism ran for over 20 minutes, well more than the seven minutes allotted. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon interrupted and asked him to end it:
Ban: Can you just wrap up please.
Al-Moallem: I came here after 12 hours in the airplane, I have few more minutes to end my speech. This is Syria.
Ban: How much do you have left now?
Al-Moallem: I think 5-10 minutes.
Ban: No, no. I will give you another opportunity to speak.
Al-Moallem: No, I cannot divide my speech. I must continue … I will do my best to be fast.
Ban: Can you just wrap up in one or two minutes?
Al-Moallem: No, I can’t promise you, I must finish my speech. … You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right.
Ban: We have to have some constructive and harmonious dialogue, please refrain from inflammatory rhetoric.
Al-Moallem: It is constructive, I promise you, let me finish.
Ban: Within 2-3 minutes please, I will give you another opportunity.
Al-Moallem: You spoke for 25 minutes, at least I need to speak 30 minutes.
After resuming his speech for a number of minutes, Ban again asked him to complete his speech. Al-Moallem promised to do so, noting, “Syria always keeps its promises.”
A cartoon posted online Wednesday criticized Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s lengthy speech. Photo courtesy of Ana Radio.
The U.S. Department of State responded almost immediately to al-Moallem’s speech, slamming it:
“Instead of laying out a positive vision for the future of Syria that is diverse, inclusive and respectful of the rights of all, the Syrian regime chose inflammatory rhetoric.”
An Ahrar al-Sham spokesperson derided the conference and reaffirmed his group’s commitment to an Islamic state in Syria, using the hashtag “#alhaqiqa,” for “#truth,” or “#reality.”
“They are gathered at Geneva II, and we remain in our jihad, by the grace of God, persevering until we achieve what we set out to do: rule by the God’s law. Nothing short of that will satisfy us #Reality”
Syria Direct interviewed a number of activists inside Syria for their reaction and expectations for the conference. A Syrian Christian opposition activist in Damascus summed up his beliefs on the conference’s outcomes: