Head of Assad delegation: “For us this round is over”
The Assad regime has walked out of the Geneva talks on Syria’s conflict after only three days, insisting that the future of Bashar al-Assad must not be discussed.
The head of the regime delegation, UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, said, “For us (this) round is over, as a government delegation. [UN envoy Staffan de Mistura] as mediator can announce his own opinion.”
He continued, referring to last week’s communiqué of the reformed High Negotiations Committee, issued from Saudi Arabia, which restated — despite the inclusion of factions favored by the regime’s ally Russia — that Assad must leave during a political transition: “As long as the other side sticks to the language of Riyadh 2 … there will be no progress.”
The delegation had staged a 24-hour protest before arriving late in Geneva on Wednesday, persuaded only by a Russian assurance that Assad’s future would not be raised.. However, after three days of indirect talks on the official agenda — governance, a new Constitution, elections, and “fighting terrorism” — Ja’afari said, “We cannot engage in serious discussion in Geneva while the Riyadh statement is not withdrawn.”
Pressed whether the delegation will return next week, Ja’afari said only, “Damascus will decide.”
De Mistura, who extended the conference to December 15 earlier this week, said in a statement that he had asked the delegations to engage in “talks next week” and give their reactions to 12 political principles.
But Ja’afari criticized the UN envoy over his approach:
The Special Envoy has exceeded his mandate by bringing up his own paper on the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic. He asked to adopt it to be a basis for the discussion which is procedural, exceeding his mandate as a mediator. We do not negotiate with the mediator.
The opposition, after brief talks later with UN officials, rejected Ja’afari’s allegation that it was seeking to undermine the talks. Spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said:
We have come to this round with no preconditions.
Now, not coming back is a precondition in itself. It’s an expression or a reflection of a responsibility toward people who have been suffering for seven years now.
Reports: Israel Strikes “Iranian Base” Near Damascus
Reports, including from Syrian and Lebanese media, claim that Israel carried out a missile strike overnight on a military base near al-Qiswa, about 13 km (8 miles) southwest of Damascus.
The base drew attention in November with publication of satellite photographs indicating that it was being built up to accommodate up to 500 troops. Claims circulated that Iran, which has been developing property in the area, was planning to put its units and foreign militias in the complex.
Top Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria; however, Russia has rejected their requests to force the compliance of the Assad regime.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly conveyed a warning to Bashar Assad in recent days, via a third party, that the regime will itself be targeted if Iran is allowed a permanent presence.
Syrian State media SANA said “the army’s air defense at midnight confronted an Israeli attack with ground-to-ground missiles” but admitted “material damage to the site”.