First Geneva II Meeting Comes Off Despite Multiple Attacks; Lavrov Summarizes the Diplomacy
January 23, 2014 • 12:37PM

The first day of "peace talks" in Syria was not peaceful, and saw intense propaganda efforts and provocative statements from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry, and of course, from the Saudi/Qatar/Turkey-supported opposition. As the meeting was set to begin, Qatar and London launched a propaganda sideshow that they attempted to place centerstage, i.e., release of a new Qatar-funded report that accused Assad of torturing and killing 11,000 prisoners. (see below)

Forty countries attended the pre-meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, with a large number of their foreign ministers making statements. On Jan. 24, the negotiations will begin again in closed-door meetings involving a much smaller group.

As we reported here the entire Geneva II process is extremely fragile, and depends on the war-avoidance commitment and diplomatic efforts shown especially by Russia's Sergei Lavrov, and the recent strong engagement by Pope Francis and the Vatican.

After the conclusion of the one-day meeting Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Syrian sides had said they would sit down for direct talks Friday, according to Reuters, and that they should start with confidence-building measures. He had spoken with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Coalition head Ahmed Jarba during the day, and urged the latter not to focus exclusively on leadership change in Damascus. "As for guarantees that the talks will not collapse — it is necessary to influence both delegations so that this does not happen," Lavrov said. "The main thing is to start the process." He expected the talks to take about a week before a pause and a second round.

Lavrov said the UN, Moscow, and Washington were trying to arrange agreement on a prisoner swap, and exchanging lists of prisoners. There was also progress in talks over a possible ceasefire in Aleppo, after a Syrian government proposal in Moscow, and similar discussions were underway about Homs.

"The relatively less difficult issues are confidence-building measures, humanitarian aid, prisoner swaps, and through this, some sort of relations between the two delegations should be created," he said. Russia would continue to try to involve Iran in the talks, and domestic opposition groups, including Kurdish groups, should also take part.

As signalled prior to the meeting, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem slammed the "external terrorism" taking place in Syria, and said that "Syria will do everything in its power to defend itself in every way possible." He fired a broadside at the Persian Gulf monarchies which back the Syrian opposition, saying, "It is regrettable to me that representatives in this room are sitting with us today, while blood is on their hands — countries that have sent weapons ... encouraged and financed terrorism."

Both Russia's and China's diplomats stressed their support for Syrian "sovereignty" and demanded that the territorial unity of Syria be protected and preserved. China's Foreign Minister also called for the end of any fighting "among sects."

The Syrian opposition is very badly divided and chaotic, with several groups resigning from the Syrian National Coalition, and others denouncing the whole Geneva process.