Syrian opposition leader Nasr al-Hariri called on US President Donald Trump and EU leaders to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and on Russia and Iran to return to talks aimed at ending the civil war.
Hariri said the blood of civilians would continue to flow in Syria unless the United States and EU countries stepped up pressure on Assad and his major allies in Russia and Iran.
“I would like to ask all those countries that promised to support the Syrian people and their aspirations for democracy and peace,” Hariri said in an interview with Reuters in London. “Why did not you keep your promises?”
Trump and EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macaron and British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a tougher stance on Assad.
All diplomatic initiatives so far have failed to make progress towards ending the seven-year-old Syrian civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million from their homes.
The map of the conflict in Syria has been dramatically reshaped in favor of Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies in the last two years. Assad and his allies have recovered large residential areas in western Syria from the grip of opposition forces seeking to topple the Syrian president. They also pushed the Islamic state to retreat in the east.
With the collapse of the opposition-controlled areas, most Western countries have relaxed their positions calling for the abdication of Assad within any peace agreement. But the opposition entered the last round of official talks last month without easing its demand that Assad leave, prompting the government to declare the talks useless.
But Hariri hinted that Western countries still had enough leverage to press the government to negotiate.
“It is time for President Trump, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Mai to say, ‘Stop,'” said the former cardiologist.
“It is time for Trump, Merkel and Mai to increase pressure and bring the international community together to reach a real and just political solution in Syria,” he said.
Hariri is the supreme body of Saudi-backed negotiations and groups opposed to Assad and supported by the West. He said the next round of “Geneva talks” on Syria’s fate would be held in late January, possibly between January 24 and 26 in Vienna.
A Hariri spokesman said the opposition would attend the talks.
– More conversations? –
Hariri said the talks in Washington, which included talks with White House national security adviser HR, McMaster was positive and Trump’s management understood the situation.
“Iran and Russia are trying to reduce the priority of the transition. We need the help of the international community to put pressure on the regime and its supporters, Russia and Iran.”
“The Americans want to test the Russians and the regime in the next round of talks. Wants to push the Geneva process forward.”
Hariri responded to a question about US plans to support a 30,000-strong force mainly made up of Syria’s Kurdish-led democratic forces, saying it could open the door to Syria’s future division.
“What are the benefits of forming such an army? This will open the door to a future conflict in the region. And may open the door to the division of Syria in the future.”
Assad responded to the plan by promising to crush the new force and expel US forces from Syria. Iran said on Tuesday the formation of a Syrian democratic force would “fuel the flames of war.” Syria, Turkey and Russia echoed similar statements.
Hariri said it was highly unlikely that the Syrian opposition would attend a meeting on Syria organized by Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. He added that the opposition has not yet received an invitation and did not take a final decision on attendance.
“We have not received an invitation yet,” he said. “The general trend is not to go to Sochi. My personal opinion is that in its current form, it is unacceptable to go to Sochi.”