Preparations underway for Moscow II Syria talks

Preparations underway for Moscow II Syria talks
Damascus is reportedly angered by Russian "interference" in Syrian affairs, and the opposition is sceptical about Assad's commitment to finding a political solution.
3 min read
21 March, 2015
Rifts continue about who will attend the Moscow II talks [Anadolu]
Moscow has sent invitations for the second round of talks between members of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime.

Final preparations are underway for the "Moscow II" talks, and invitations have been sent to 26 figures representing a variety of political groups and independent factions.

One of the main developments since the last round of talks earlier this year have been comments from US Secretary of State John Kerry and Syrian National Coalition leaders suggesting they might drop a precondition that Assad step down before formal peace talks between the regime and the opposition can commence.

Opposition invited

An opposition source in Damascus, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the invitations were handed over to Russian ambassadors in the countries where opposition figures reside.

"Invitations were sent out to the SNC leader Khaled Khoja, the National Commission for Democratic Change's general coordinator Hassan Abdul-Azim, and the Building the Syrian State Movement's President Louay Hussein," the source said.

Invitiations were also reportedly sent out to the president of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, and leading opposition figures including Moaz al-Khatib, Walid al-Bunni, Michel Kilo and Ahmad al-Jarba.

Figures that seen as close to the Syrian regime, including Mahmoud Merhi and Qadri Jamil, along with tribal confederations in eastern Syria, will also be represented. Licensed political parties inside Syria will each send one person to Moscow.

Russia expects the invitees to confirm their attendance by the beginning of next month.

Moscow will likely set the talks for 6 to 9 April, and the UN's envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, is expected to attend.
     Sources say that the talks have been a point of contention between Moscow and Damascus.

The Moscow forum would be followed by a Syrian opposition conference in Cairo on 24 April.

Azamat Kulmuhametov, Russia's ambassador to Damascus, will meet Syrian regime officials, including Bashar al-Assad, to brief them on the conference agenda.

Russia-Syria divisions

However, sources say that the talks have been a point of contention between Moscow and Damascus.

Sources believe that the regime sees armed rebel groups as holding the real power in the opposition, not the political figures who have been invited to the talks.

Damascus is also said to be angered by coordination between Moscow and Cairo about inviting members of the Syrian opposition to the talks.

Regime officials see this as interfering in Syria's internal affairs, and some are pushing for a boycott of the Moscow talks.

Some opposition figures are also said to be sceptical about the talks, and believe that Iran has outflanked Russia and now holds sway with the regime.

Several rebel groups steered clear from the first Moscow forum, accusing organisers of having invited figures close to the regime as representatives of Syria's opposition.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.