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Moscow Forum Ignores Politics, Favors Photos, Lunch and Tea

Forum program offers insight into conference priorities amid further rumours of opposition infighting
Moscow Forum Ignores Politics, Favors Photos, Lunch and Tea

There were no political themes headlining the Moscow Forum program distributed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, due to kick-off today between representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition. The program does, however, mention a meeting scheduled on Wednesday afternoon between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and forum attendants, highlighting Moscow’s focus on "social diplomacy” over lunches and tea, in hopes of a successful group photo.


The Moscow Forum, which lasts four days, coincides with the first anniversary of the collapse of the Geneva 2 negotiations mediated by former UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, following a dispute on the priority of negotiations.


The regime prioritized their “fight against terrorism", while the Syrian National Coalition insisted on discussing the formation of a "governing transitional body with full executive powers", according to the Geneva statement issued in mid-2012.


Brahimi was unable to persuade the regime’s delegation to conduct "parallel negotiations" on terrorism and the formation of a transitional body. Actually, the head of regime's delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, paid no attention to the 24-page presentation from the head of the Coalition's delegation, Hadi al-Bahra, concerning the tasks and principles of the formation of the transitional body.


With the Coalition boycotting the dialogue in the Russian capital, leaders of the National Coordination Commission for Democratic Change seek to undermine the Coalition by participating in talks with its heads inside Syria and abroad. The Coordination Commission recently held a conference in Cairo between opposition figures, including leaders of the Coalition.


According to the detailed program, the dialogue is to be held behind closed doors in the Green Hall, located in a small guesthouse inside the Foreign Ministry building. The dialogue kicks-off at 11am when participants "register" before the Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vitaliy Vyacheslavovich Naumkin, delivers an opening speech as a coordinator for the dialogue.


Naumkin will then open the door in front of participants in order to greet each other, as some attendees are yet to meet. A number of figures are part of the “diaspora", while others have come from Damascus to represent the "internal opposition” with government-licensed parties from the last two years.


After the "representatives of the opposition and civil society recognize each other", they will go down to the lobby of the guesthouse to "rest and drink tea, coffee and refreshments" before returning to "continue the dialogue" briefly, and then go out again for a "lunch buffet" in "Karelia Hall", hoping to get to know each other more… during the meals.


Phrases like "continue the dialogue" and "break" are repeated during the second day of the program without mentioning headlines of the dialogue. At 6pm tomorrow evening, Naumkin will "summarize the preliminary results of the dialogue".


On the third day, the program states that "representatives of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic will participate" in a dialogue with the "Syrian opposition and the bodies of Syrian civil society" for about an hour and a half, before meeting in the lobby for a quarter of an hour to have another "tea, coffee and refreshments break". They will then return to the "Green Hall", where the head of the regime's delegation, Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, will "speak" for a quarter of an hour.


The "representative of the opposition" is then scheduled to deliver a speech , although it is yet be announced who that figure, or what the speech’s content, will be. Furthermore, no one knows if it will include the same "Cairo Document" unapproved by a number of attendees, such as the president of the National Call Platform, Samir Aita, and the deputy president of Building the Syrian State current, Mona Ghanem, following talks of commissioning the artist Jamal Suleiman to carry the document to the Russian capital.


Al-Hayat has learned of a hidden conflict between opposition figures, with a number of them informing the Russian Foreign Ministry that they would like to "deliver the speech”. Others have warned they will boycott the dialogue if they were not chosen for the task. As for the "speech of the representative of civil society bodies", rumors suggest it will be delivered by Suhair Sarmini, who hails from Damascus with a "recommendation" from the Syrian government.


Then, if a compromise is reached, everyone will have an open lunch, before returning to "continue the dialogue between parties" for an hour and a half, in preparation for moving to the large guesthouse to meet Lavrov – who will deliver a "talk" to participants for about an hour, before Naumkin summarize the "potential interim results".


The Russian Foreign Ministry has allocated the last day, Thursday, for the "dialogue between representatives of the government, the opposition and the bodies of Syrian civil society", without giving further details.


Russia hopes that the "breaks, tea, coffee and refreshments" may help the coordinator to reach a "potential acknowledgement of the results of the first Syrian meeting, including a consensus on the resumption of the Moscow Forum dialogue”.


The dialogue concludes with a "group photo of participants" taken in the lobby of the small guesthouse, before returning to the President Hotel.


Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer

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