The final week of the eighth round of the inter-Syrian talks begins in Geneva. Discussions are expected to last until December 15.
Much will depend on the delegation of the government of Syria that has returned to Geneva, which is still silent.
– Participants and format –
On Sunday in Geneva, after eight days of consultations in Damascus, a delegation of the Syrian government headed by the country’s ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari arrived.
Government representatives were absent during the second week of the round, so the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura held meetings only with the opposition.
Before leaving Geneva on December 2, Jaafari stated that negotiations with the government’s opponents remain impossible until they give up the demand for the immediate withdrawal of President Bashar Assad. The opposition for the previous week did not remove the corresponding item from the communiqué of the unification conference in Riyadh, but the delegations insist that they do not put forward preconditions.
Negotiations are likely to once again pass through an intermediary. De Mistura repeatedly noted that the transition to direct contacts is one of the main tasks in Geneva, but at a December 7 briefing he did not announce any change in the format. Jaafari, on arrival in Geneva on Sunday, left unanswered the question of whether the government delegation is ready for direct talks.
– Agenda –
De Mistura said before the start of the round that he intends to focus discussions on issues of drafting the constitution and holding elections. The basis for discussion is the working document known as the “12 principles of de Mistura”, where the general principles of the Syrian settlement are gathered.
We are talking about basic principles, such as adherence to the territorial integrity of Syria, building a state on the basis of democracy, preserving state institutions, including the army and security structures.
The Syrian government has traditionally insisted that the negotiations in Geneva focus on the problems of combating terrorism.
– Fears of the Special Envoy –
On December 7, the UN Emissary expressed his hope that the last week of the round could be devoted to constructive work. However, he himself expressed his fears about the possible sabotage of negotiations on the part of any of the participants (the special envoy did not specify who exactly he meant).
According to him, this will lead to “very negative consequences for any efforts to achieve a political settlement.”
If de Mistura fails to achieve results before the end of the coming week, the next round is unlikely to take place before the beginning of 2018, that is, it can pass about the same time when the Congress of the Syrian national dialogue is expected to be held in Sochi.
The key point for understanding the further development of the situation in Geneva remains the position of the government of Syria. Jaafari, as noted above, did not make any statement on Sunday about how long and in what format he intends to hold discussions.
De Mistura, who usually arranges preliminary consultations with the guests at the hotel upon the arrival of delegations, this time abandoned the usual practice. However, the UN emissary had already paid a “courtesy visit” to the government delegation when she arrived for the first time for the round on 29 November.
– Outside of Geneva –
The development of the situation in the negotiations can be affected by events outside Geneva.
The situation remains acute in the suburbs of Damascus East Guta. The opposition demands that the government of Syria allow to assist the civilian population, which is under siege.
In Damascus, it is claimed that an operation against terrorists is being conducted in East Gut. The aggravation of the situation “on the ground” repeatedly negatively influenced the negotiations in Geneva.
Significant effect can have events related to the prospects of the Russian military presence in Syria. On December 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that “as a whole, the combat work at this stage is, in this territory, finished, I repeat, the complete rout of the terrorists.”
Earlier, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said that preparations had already begun for the withdrawal of the Russian military group from Syria.