UN chief backs Syria delegates plan for Geneva

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura came under criticism after giving opposition groups until February 8 to agree on their delegation

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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday backed his peace envoy’s plan to pick representatives from the Syria opposition to the Geneva talks if the groups fail to agree on their delegates.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura came under sharp criticism from the Syria opposition after giving opposition groups until February 8 to agree on their delegation to the talks, scheduled to open on February 20. “It is clear this is a possibility that might be used,” Guterres told reporters about the ultimatum.

“What we want is the success of the Geneva conference, and the success of the Geneva conference implies that there is a meaningful representation of the Syrian opposition in Geneva,” he said. “We will do everything to make sure that that happens.” De Mistura told the Security Council on Tuesday that he was delaying the peace talks, initially scheduled to begin on February 8, to allow both sides to better prepare.

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He warned that if the opposition fails to agree, he would “select the delegation in order to make sure that it can be as inclusive as possible.” Guterres noted that UN resolutions on Syria give De Mistura the prerogative to pick the delegation to the peace talks.

“What is important is to have, this time, substantive discussions on the central issues, and I hope that this will be possible,” he said. Previous UN-led talks have broken down over disagreements on ensuring a transition in Damascus that would lead to President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power. The opposition rejected the envoy’s comments as “unacceptable.”

“Selecting the Syrian opposition delegation is not the business... of de Mistura,” Riad Hijab, head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, wrote on his Twitter account.

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