No sign of compromise as Syrian talks begin

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Syrian peace talks, hosted by the United Nations, have begun in the Swiss town of Montreux.


But representatives of the Syrian government and rebel forces fighting it have so far shown no signs of compromise.

Zara Zaher reports.

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The talks began with an appeal from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

He urged all nations and groups to put their differences aside and work towards an end to three years of war that has cost tens-of-thousands of lives, and caused millions to be displaced from their homes.

Mr Ban says the Switzerland talks offer the chance to begin moving towards a lasting peace.

“This conference is your opportunity to show unity behind the need for a political solution. It is an opportunity to encourage and support the Syrian delegations to negotiate in good faith in order to save their country and embark on a new future.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says efforts to broker a peace settlement for Syria will be neither simple nor quick, but the peace conference marks a historic opportunity.

Mr Lavrov has reiterated that Iran should be involved in the so-called Geneva Two discussions on Syria’s future.

The remark follows Ban Ki-Moon’s decision to withdraw his invitation to Iran, after criticism from several international leaders and Syrian rebel groups.

Mr Lavrov says some important Syrian groups are also being excluded from the initial stages of the peace talks.

“(Through interpreter): The possibility to take part in a national dialogue should be extended to all groups of the Syrian society. However in this process we do not see some patriotically-minded opposition groups active within Syria being involved who have expressed an active interest in being participants in Geneva II. We would suggest that we could overcome this situation to correct it, to include them in the negotiating process even if they are not there on the first day.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has used the conference to reiterate the government’s position that it’s engaged in a war against rebel forces that are being supported by a multi-national group of mercenaries.

And he’s warning that neighbouring countries which failed to come to Syria’s aid when the conflict began may now experience the effects.

“(Through interpreter): Who does not learn from history, shall lose the present. History says your neighbour’s house cannot burn while your house is absolutely safe. Nevertheless some neighbours have lit the fires in Syria and have brought terrorists from all parts of the world and here we see the horrible, tragic irony. Eighty three nationalities are fighting in Syria and nobody condemned that and nobody changed his position and they continue calling it the nobel Syrian revolution.”

The President of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, is blaming President Bashar al-Assad for the presence of foreign fighters in Syria.

He’s told the conference that it’s time for Mr Assad to hand over power to an interim administration.

“(Through interpreter): The picture is clear before your eyes ladies and gentlemen. The revolution is facing the terrorism of Assad and the terrorists that he has allowed to come into Syria. We must clean the land of Syria while al-Assad is importing the mercenaries while pretending that he is facing terrorism. Who do you believe? Ladies and gentlemen who do you believe? In the Syrian delegation, we must protect Syria and it’s people against all crimes the people of Syria, all the people of Syria – men, women, children.”

United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, is also blaming President Bashar al-Assad for the ongoing conflict in Syria.

And he also agrees that Mr Assad can have no place in an interim administration.

“Just as there could be no place for the prepetrator of this violence there can also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake, it is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.”

But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has made it clear the Assad government has no intention of giving in to the rebels.

“(Through interpreter): We aspire to a strong national army which defends land and honour, defends its borders and defends its soveignty, not to free mercenary army, to abduction of civilians and swapping them for money and turning them into human shields, blackmailing the poor, a mercenary army that trades in human organs and eats livers and hearts and burns human heads and rapes women and recruits children with the use of force. And uses weapons that are sent by countries that are here today which claim that they are supporting moderate groups.”


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