Middle East

Syria conflict: Government 'ready to attend peace talks'

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem speaks to reporters in Beijing (24 December 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Walid Muallem said the government would participate in talks "without any foreign interference"

Syria's government is prepared to take part in UN-brokered peace talks aimed at finding a political solution to the four-year conflict in the country.

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said it would be "ready as soon as we receive a list of the opposition delegation".

The warring parties and the world powers backing them have to agree on which rebel groups will be designated as "terrorists" and not represented.

The UN hopes to convene the talks in Geneva towards the end of January.

More than 250,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes.

"Syria is ready to participate in the Syrian-Syrian Dialogue in Geneva without any foreign interference," Mr Muallem told reporters in Beijing on Thursday following a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.

"We hope that this dialogue will be successful to help us in having a national unity government," he added.

UN Security Council Resolution on Syria (No. 2254)

Image copyright AFP
  • Calls for ceasefire and formal talks on a political transition to start in January
  • Groups and individuals designated as "terrorists" will be excluded
  • "Offensive and defensive actions" against terrorists - a reference to air strikes by Russia and the US-led coalition against Islamic State - to continue
  • UN chief Ban Ki-moon to report by 18 January on how to monitor ceasefire
  • Political transition should be Syrian-led, and led to establishment of "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" within six months
  • "Free and fair elections" under UN supervision to be held within 18 months

Mr Wang said the Chinese and Syrian governments had agreed on three principles that "should be upheld throughout the whole peace process".

"We should stick to the peaceful resolution of Syrian issue, the people of Syria should decide the future and fate of Syria, and the UN plays a key role in negotiations," he added.

On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously backed a resolution endorsing a road map for the peace process, including negotiations, a ceasefire and elections.

But the resolution avoided contentious issues, including who could represent the opposition at the peace talks and the fate of Mr Assad.

Mr Wang declined to answer directly when asked if Mr Assad should remain in power. "China's position is very clear. We believe Syria's future, its national system, including its leadership, should be decided and set by the people of Syria."

Divisions over Assad's future

Image copyright AP

The United States, which supports the Syrian opposition, wants a negotiated settlement based on the 2012 Geneva Communique, which calls for the formation of a transitional governing body. It says President Bashar al-Assad must go.

Russia, which launched an air campaign against Mr Assad's opponents in September, also calls for the implementation of the Geneva Communique. But it says Mr Assad's future is for the Syrian people, not external powers, to decide.

Most of Syria's political and armed opposition factions now agree on the need for a managed transition but they demand that the president leave at the start of it.

Bashar al-Assad says peace talks cannot begin until "terrorism" is eliminated and that his departure is out of the question before elections are held.

On Tuesday, the head of the UN's Geneva office said special envoy Staffan de Mistura expected to convene the talks "some time towards the end of January".

"Almost everybody wants these talks to be successful, so that we can finally get a political solution to this really unacceptable problem," Michael Moller said.

In a separate development in Syria on Thursday, activists said the jihadist group Islamic State had seized an area previously held by government forces in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 26 soldiers were killed in fighting for the industrial district.