Syrian opposition mulls invitation for informal meeting with govt

Published: Updated:

Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group is considering an invitation for informal meetings involving Syrian government representatives in Moscow that would focus on establishing humanitarian corridors, the Associated Press reported opposition figures as saying on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when the talks might take place, or whether they would include direct contact between representatives of President Bashar Assad’s government and the Syrian National Coalition.

Veteran opposition figure Kamal Labwani, who is a member of the coalition, said the opposition was still considering whether to accept the Russian offer. The talks are envisioned as a venue for the coalition’s technical experts to coordinate with the Syrian Red Crescent Society to secure the flow of food to besieged areas, he said.

“The Russians called on the opposition to meet with the regime there, but then the scaled it back to solving the humanitarian crisis,” the Associated Press quoted Labwani as saying. “They want to open a line of communication between the regime and the opposition through Russia.”

He said some members of the coalition believe the Russians are trying to exploit the humanitarian crisis to bring the opposition to the negotiating table.

Another Syrian opposition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the opposition coalition already had decided to send experts to Moscow for the proposed talks on humanitarian corridors.

If the two sides were to sit down together for discussions on humanitarian issues, it could boost the prospects for a proposed peace conference the U.S. and Russia have been trying to convene in Geneva.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that representatives of the opposition, who met with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Geneva, “responded positively” to a Kremlin offer to host “informal contacts in Moscow for the entire spectrum of Syria’s social and political forces.”

Bogdanov said the talks could focus on humanitarian problems as well as some political issues.

There are more than 2 million Syrians who have sought refuge abroad, while the U.N. said this week that more than 9 million Syrians - out of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million - are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as saying on Thursday that he believed Syrian peace talks could still be held in the coming weeks, although Washington and Moscow have failed to set a date.

The Syrian opposition demands President Assad to step down as part of their precondition. However, Damascus said this will never happen.

U.N.-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said earlier this week that, after a three-way meeting in Geneva, it had not been possible to agree on when to hold the talks which had been proposed for the end of November.

Kerry said he thought there would be some “clarity" in the coming days and the peace conference “might be moved by a week or something like that.”

Speaking at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Kerry said part of the reason for the delay was plans by the Syrian opposition to meet on Saturday in Istanbul to discuss whether to attend.

“People are trying to respect their process appropriately,” AFP quoted Kerry as telling to reported.

“So I’m confident that somewhere in the next days a date is going to be set,” he said.

And he said he wasn’t worried even if it’s two weeks later as it was “going to give people time to prepare. It’s going to open up more opportunity for the variations of options to be able to be explored.”

(With AFP and Associated Press)