Allies to talk Syria’s future

Battered Syria.
Battered Syria.

AMMAN — A leading Syrian opposition source said the opposition would meet officials from the United States, Russia and the United Nations in Munich tomorrow to discuss a political transition for Syria.

If confirmed it would be the first time that the United States and Russia, key players who have been at loggerheads over whether President Bashar al-Assad can have a role in a transitional government, had sat down together with the opposition. However, Russia’s deputy foreign minister declined to confirm the proposal.

Syrian National Coalition officials said on Friday that Coalition president Moaz Alkhatib would meet US Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the sidelines of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Munich.

“Alkhatib was informed by Brahimi that it will be a four-way meeting. He is going to Munich alone,” a high-level Coalition member told Reuters.

“I think Russia warmed to the meeting after Alkhatib’s proposal (to talk to Syrian officials). The Coalition has adopted a position of constructive vagueness on whether Assad should step down first for a transition to happen, and it has stirred things up,” the Coalition member said.

But shortly afterwards, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov sent a tweet saying: “As it stands today, there is no such meeting mentioned in the programme of the Russian Foreign Minister.”

Alkhatib had to fight off an overnight challenge to his authority after saying he would be willing to talk to Syrian officials without Assad stepping down first, but that concession appeared to have opened the way to Saturday’s talks.

Both the Coalition and the armed opposition inside Syria had been saying they would be willing to discuss a political transition only after Assad left power.

Washington backed the position, while Moscow, Assad’s main backer, was adamant that his departure could not be a precondition for talks, paralyzing international efforts to end a 22-month-old conflict that has already killed more than 60,000.

A meeting of the Coalition’s 12-member politburo ended at 5 a.m. on Friday with the leadership instructing Khatib, a Sunni preacher from Damascus, not to respond to any proposals made in Munich before reverting to them. (Reuters)

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