Syria’s opposition sets conditions for negotiations

Amid offers of talks, the fighting goes on ' these rebel soldiers are exchanging fire with the Syrian army in a Damascus suburb.  Picture: Reuters
Amid offers of talks, the fighting goes on ' these rebel soldiers are exchanging fire with the Syrian army in a Damascus suburb. Picture: Reuters
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SYRIA’S opposition coalition has said it is ready to negotiate president Bashar al-Assad’s exit with any member of his government who has not participated in his military crackdown on the uprising.

The regime has given no formal response to several offers of talks in recent weeks, but officials say they cannot accept pre-conditions about Mr Assad’s departure and have privately dismissed what they say are no more than media initiatives.

The political chasm between the sides, a lack of opposition influence over rebel fighters on the ground and an international diplomatic deadlock, have all allowed fighting to rage on.

Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib offered negotiations last month without consulting the coalition’s 70-member assembly, prompting criticism from a powerful bloc within the movement dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem is due to visit Moscow, one of Mr Assad’s main foreign allies, later this month. Russia hopes Mr Alkhatib will also visit soon, in search of a breakthrough to end the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings.

But coalition members say no date has been set for an Alkhatib trip to Moscow and Syria’s foreign ministry played down suggestions he and Mr Moualem could meet there, saying any dialogue must take place in Syria.

A meeting of the coalition’s 12-member politburo in Cairo endorsed Mr Alkhatib’s initiative, although it set guidelines for any peace talks which will be presented for approval by the full assembly next Thursday.

“These guidelines stipulate that Bashar al-Assad and all the security and military leaders that participated in the killing of the Syrian people and whose hands are stained with blood have no place in the Syria of the future,” coalition member Abdulbaset Sieda said.

“We agreed to reassure the Syrian brothers from the [ruling] Baath party whose hands are not stained with the blood of the Syrian people that they are partners in the coming political process.”

Another opposition member said next week’s coalition gathering would try to revive plans for a provisional government, undermined so far by divisions among Mr Assad’s foes. Walid Bunni, one of a handful of liberals in the assembly, said Mr Assad and his military and intelligence officials could not be part of any negotiations. “Bashar and his cohorts will not be party to any talks. We will not regard those present from the government’s side as his representatives,” he said.

Syria’s foreign ministry complained to the United Nations yesterday over what it said was pressure by Turkey, which backs the rebels, on Syria’s opposition to reject any negotiated solution.

The ministry said Turkey was “training and arming terrorist groups including al-Qaeda” to fight Assad’s forces. Turkey has repeatedly denied arming or training the Syrian insurgents.

Mr Alkhatib has said he is willing to talk to Mr Assad’s representatives in rebel-held areas of Syria or outside the country to try to end the conflict.

Syria’s minister for national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, initially gave a positive response, saying he was willing to travel abroad to meet him.

But in a TV interview this week, he reiterated the government’s position that any serious dialogue must be on Syrian territory and said the opposition had not formally presented any proposals.