France and the US have called on Russia to press the Assad regime to return to political talks in Geneva over the 81-month Syrian conflict.
The regime’s delegation left the UN-backed indirect discussions with Syria’s opposition after only three days last Friday, objecting to any mention of Bashar al-Assad’s future. The head of the delegation, Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari, criticized UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s conduct of the talks.
Ja’afari said then that “Damascus will decide” on any return to the table, and the pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper wrote Tuesday that that the matter “is still being studied by the Syrian leadership”.
France accused the regime of refusing to engage in good faith.
“This refusal highlights the obstruction strategy of the political process carried out by the Damascus regime, which is responsible for the absence of progress in the negotiations,” French Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Alexandre Georgini said.
He said that Russia, the regime’s key ally, needed to assume its responsibilities to ensure a resumption of negotiations.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, addressing a news conference in Brussels, said
We have said to the Russians it is important that the Syrian regime be at the table and be part of these negotiations and part of the discussion. We have left it to the Russians to deliver them to the table.
A “diplomat in Geneva” said it was likely but unconfirmed that the delegation would return to Geneva on Friday. Russia’s RIA news agency, quoting an unnamed source, said they would rejoin the negotiations on Sunday or Monday.
Meanwhile, De Mistura renewed talks with the opposition High Negotiations Committee on Tuesday. Discussions are around four general issues: governance, a new Constitution, elections, and “fighting terrorism”.
Russia Threatens to Block Aid Into Opposition Areas
Far from putting pressure on the Assad regime over its sieges of opposition areas, Russia is also threatening to block aid deliveries.
Moscow is aiming at a 2014 UN Security Council resolution, expiring in January, which authorizes the assistance. The Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, has said the deliveries impinge on Syria’s sovereignty.
The resolution has been renewed twice with Russian support, but now Moscow is using the pretext of a desire for tighter inspections to threaten a halt to the assistance.
“This mechanism cannot remain as it presently stands,” Nebenzia said.