Sources familiar with the recent meeting between the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and members of the High Committee for Negotiations say the envoy faced a solid delegation which appeared to have reached a clear consensus.
The sources told Al-Souria Net that the committee’s general coordinator, Riyad Hijab, insisted in his recent meeting with de Mistura on adhering to the principles demanded by the Syrian people, and said there was no room for compromise.
Al-Souria Net learned that Hijab specified four red lines which cannot be abandoned in any negotiation process with the Assad regime: the establishment of a pluralistic regime – representing the full spectrum of the Syrian people – with no place for Bashar al-Assad, the military leadership or prominent figures of his regime in any current or future political arrangements; adhering to the integrity of Syrian territory; preserving the state institutions while restructuring and reforming its security and military institutions; and rejecting terrorism in all its forms.
The committee expressed its eagerness to move the political process forward. Hijab stressed that the committee had chosen the opposition delegation based on exacting standards and on their qualifications and competence, pointing to the need to provide the necessary setting for the talks to succeed.
He stressed the need to empower humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to everyone who needs it, to release all prisoners, and to halt aerial and artillery bombardment and attacks against civilians and civilian targets, and for all parties to immediately comply with their commitments under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as ensuring steps are taken to build the trust, explainig that without this, commencement of negotiations would be impossible.
Hijab stressed his full support for the efforts of the UN envoy in carrying out the provisions of the Geneva 2012 statement and UN Security Council decision 2118 to launch a political process conducive to the establishment of a transitional ruling body with full powers. He expressed his full readiness to cooperate with the UN envoy in taking the necessary steps to launch the political process and guarantee its success, stressing the need to commit to official direct communication channels with the general coordinator for the High Committee for Negotiations.
Hijab also noted the need for the international community to open channels to negotiate with those who have the real ability to create a ceasefire and guarantee it is adhered to, in accordance with binding international resolutions.
With regard to the humanitarian track — such as stopping bombardment of populated areas, the return of refugees, ending the blockade of affected areas, delivering aid to the affected people, and providing safe havens for the Syrian people — Hijab told de Mistura that negotiations must be held with bodies other than the regime, which does not control border crossings and transport routes. He added that it is necessary to engage neighboring countries, in which about five million Syrian refugees reside, to arrive at real results.
Hijab said the counter-terrorism track was completely outside the regime’s control, as the coalition forces are carrying this out, and anti-revolution forces are targeting moderate factions under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Hijab noted that some countries were bent on diplomatic attrition and were wasting time by requiring a unified terrorism list to be issued by countries holding different views on the definition of terrorism. He considered this to be a destructive attempt to hinder the political process.
Hijab added that the counter-terrorism track would require working to remove thousands of foreign fighters, whether members of the Islamic State group or sectarian factions or mercenary groups of various nationalities.
Addressing the role of the international community, Hijab stressed that, “the complexity of the crisis and the entry of various foreign parties places before us demands which we cannot ignore or get rid of under a UN resolution that aims to reach international consensus at the expense of the Syrian people. Security Council resolution 2254 has left serious gaps which the initiative must fill to guarantee the launch of a viable political process in Syria.”
He added: “It is not appropriate to issue a clause calling for an end to attacks against civilians and civilian targets, the targeting of medical facilities and those working in them, and the use of indiscriminate weapons including artillery and aerial bombardment, when the following day one of the international powers signing the resolution targets populated areas and uses cluster munitions and kills civilians and leaders of moderate factions who we are depended upon to guarantee the progress of the negotiating process and to fight ISIS [a reference to Russia]. This empties the resolution of its content and makes the concept of confidence-building unattainable, especially given that the resolution did not specify a timeframe to implement the ceasefire.”
In addition to this serious gap, making the ceasefire conditional on the start of the first steps toward a political transition means that all forces — local and foreign — can continue fighting, aerial bombardment, and the targeting of civilians throughout the negotiating stage, which could last six months, he said.
In this context, Hijab presented the envoy with a number of questions, most importantly: “Has it escaped the international community that the need to stop fighting and deliver aid to affected people and protect civilians is a basic condition for starting negotiations? Is it possible to imagine a political track in which some of the parties are fighting with banned weapons and poison gas while at the same time negotiating a political settlement and talking about the Syrian people determining the fate of their president?”
Hijab stressed that establishing a mechanism for the UN to monitor the ceasefire is essential to guarantee the progress of the negotiating process, especially since most of the groups involved in the fighting are beholden to foreign nations, and must be bound by international decisions and international supervision, not domestic arrangements built on goodwill. There is no doubt that breaching this provision will render the humanitarian provisions connected with the humanitarian side of resolution 2254 worthless.
The ceasefire process and monitoring of compliance should not be subject to the decision of a negotiating party, but should be completed under internationally-guaranteed supervision, especially given that the fighting is not limited to parties affiliated with the regime and the opposition.
Hijab added that there are other gaps that make Security Council resolution 2254 fall short of realizing its hoped-for aims, such as an attempt to merge the agencies of oppression among the institutions of governance, an issue which would completely derail the political process.
He noted the need for the international community to carry out its role in filling these gaps and curbing foreign aggression against the Syrian people to realize the resolution’s noble humanitarian aims and enable domestic parties to negotiate in an atmosphere of trust and good faith.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.