Syria talks already on shaky ground before start

The Syrian government delegation to shaky peace talks in Geneva will wait no more than 24 hours for the opposition delegation to arrive

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Syria’s foreign minister says a government delegation will head to Geneva Sunday to take part in indirect peace talks with the opposition.

Walid al-Muallem told reporters Saturday that the government team will not stay more than 24 hours in Geneva if the opposition does not show up.

He insisted that the opposition delegation take part in talks at the United Nations headquarters in the Swiss city, deriding them for “spending the last round in hotels.”

“Otherwise, we will not waste our time,” Muallem said.

“Our delegation will leave for Geneva tomorrow... We will wait 24 hours and if no one is there, then we will return,” he told a news conference in Damascus.

The talks are scheduled to begin Monday.

But he said the position of president was not on the table for discussion, describing any attempt to discuss the presidency a “red line”.

“We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency... Bashar al-Assad is a red line and is the property of the Syrian people,” Muallem said.

The last round of indirect talks collapsed on Feb. 3 over a Russian-backed government offensive in Aleppo. The latest talks come amid a two-week partial cease-fire that has mostly held.

Muallem rejected comments made by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who said presidential elections will be held within 18 months.

Muallem said: “Neither he nor anyone else has the right to talk about presidential elections. This is an exclusive right of the Syrian people.”

But Syrian opposition official Monzer Makhous said they would ‘only accept the formation of transitional governing body in first, six-month phase of transition.

And he told Al Arabiya News’ sister channel Al Hadath that Muallem was “Halting Geneva talks before they start," adding that such statements were “putting nails in coffin of Geneva."

Muallem dismissed such claims saying that a “transitional period” meant moving from the existing government to another one, and from the existing constitution to another one.

(With AFP, AP and Reuters)

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