07.03.2014 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Syria: Negotiations and the Struggle Continue

imkander-suriyeThe UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding free access of the humanitarian aid to victims of the conflict in Syria. The resolution provides for the opening of the borders of Syria and the front lines for the direct delivery of aid, and also requires the Syrian opposition to break all relations with terrorist organizations. Before the vote, Russia’s permanent representative at the world organization, Vitaly Churkin, said that Russia would support UN Security Council’s resolution, calling it “a good resolution”.

Taking into account the importance of the adoption of this document, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participated at the UN Security Council meeting and said: “I am shocked by the fact that both sides use the holding of civilians as a military tactic. Around 20,000 people are blockaded in areas under government control, and 45,000 people in areas controlled by the opposition.”

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the obtained document provides real steps – demilitarization of hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities, opening of borders for humanitarian aid, and the requirement to stop attacks against civilians. Syrian authorities have already declared that they are ready to cooperate on implementing the resolution of the UN Security Council and to provide humanitarian aid access within the framework of the resolution, while it respects the sovereignty of the country (said the Syrian Foreign Ministry).

Simultaneously, the Syrian government urges Syria’s opposition to join the fight against terrorism in the country and is ready to discuss the formation of a transitional government authority only after success in this struggle is achieved. This sensible view is actively supported by the Russian Foreign Ministry. “The government, as we understand it, calls on the opposition delegation to make an official confirmation and join the government in fighting against terrorism in Syria. After that, they are ready to discuss all other issues, including the establishment of a transitional governing body,” said the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

“As for the opposition, we have learned from our contacts with Brahimi, and with other parties, that their priority is the establishment of a transitional government. And, of course, they see it without Assad, but it is simply difficult to say what structure this will have,” said Mr. Gatilov. According to him, the essence of their position is to give this issue a priority. However, according to the diplomat, it is very difficult to speak about the creation of a new body before the end of the violence in the country. “From my point of view, the cessation of violence is the main theme, which would then go to the settlement and finding of solutions to the outstanding issues,” said the Deputy Foreign Minister of the RF.

An interesting statement was made by the head of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. He, in particular, said that if the forces of the Arab world would withdraw their representatives from Syria, the fighters of his movement would also leave the country. “If you do not want the region in chaos, which will last for decades, stop the war in Syria,” said H. Nasralla addressing all political forces in the Arab world. “Take your representatives out of Syria, and let the Syrians solve their own conflict. (…) Of course, if that happens, we will not stay in Syria,” he added. Nevertheless, at the same time, H. Nasralla stressed that his movement will not allow Islamists to come to power in Syria.

Beating off fierce attacks of the opposition, the number of foreigners in which is variously estimated at 120–160 thousand people, Damascus continues to implement steadily their obligations for the export of chemical weapons from the country. However, here, the opposition is also interfering, making constant attacks on convoys that are exporting the chemical weapons outside Syria for their future destruction. The oppositions’ plan is simple: if they do not succeed in grabbing such weapons, then at least they would break the export plan, and then the West could accuse Damascus of failing to fulfil its international obligations. For example, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) staff, responsible for the export of chemical weapons outside Syria for its destruction, were twice attacked in January of this year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informed the UN Security Council. “The Syrian authorities were informed that there were two attempts to attack a convoy transporting chemical materials on January 27, 2014,” said Ban Ki-moon’s letter to UN Security Council for the fifth monthly report of the OPCW on Syria. According to Ban Ki-moon, the Syrian authorities also reported that the ongoing hostilities have made inaccessible two locations (of chemical weapons), which led to the postponement of the destruction of isopropanol. Moreover, these circumstances made it difficult for the OPCW experts to check the results of this program.

All these events have led to the fact that the Syrian authorities were forced to negotiate a new plan for the export of chemical weapons, according to which, toxic substances will be removed from the country by the end of April, and this plan is being discussed at the UN. UN official Martin Nesirky said that the UN is analysing the new schedule of chemical weapons export out of Syria: “We are in constant contact with the heads of the UN mission and the OPCW in Syria,” said Sigrid Kaag, adding that, “This schedule is being studied.”

Syria will fulfil all its obligations to destroy chemical weapons if this event will take place without extra politicization, and if the security situation in the country is taken into account, Foreign Minister of the Republic, Walid Muallem, said in Damascus at a meeting with the Special Coordinator of the Joint OPCW and UN mission, Sigrid Kaag.

We should recall that according to the original plan, the highly toxic substances had to be evacuated from Syria by December 31, 2013. However, unfortunately, this plan could not be fulfilled, due to the unstable situation in the country. In accordance with the adjusted schedule of OPCW, the priority in removing chemicals includes about 20 tons of toxic mustard gas, which should be removed by March 31, 2014, and by the end of June 2014, Syrian chemical weapons are planned to be completely destroyed.

Recent sad events in Syria have forced Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (in the course of a telephone conversation) once again to emphasize the need to continue direct talks on Syria. As it is known, the second round of negotiations on Syria ended in Geneva on February 15. The UN and Arab League on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will announce about the next meeting after the report is sent to the UN Secretary General.

However, Washington continues its favourite policy of unfounded accusations against Moscow. United States keeps distorting, in a tendentious way, Russia’s position on Syria. This is the information presented by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich and published on the site of Russian Foreign Ministry. “It is unlikely that our American partners do not possess the real information about the dynamics of the events in Syria and the humanitarian and disarmament tracks. In this context, the question raises: “Why is Russia’s position on Syria so deliberately distorted?” said Mr. Lukashevich.

In connection with the events in Ukraine, the U.S. is freezing its military and trade relations with Russia. In addition, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psak has stated that the U.S. Senate is considering sanctions against Russia. At the same time, a number of “hot heads” in Washington do not just advise, but insist, that the “weak and indecisive” President Barack Obama take decisive action against Moscow. These pieces of advice relate to possible improper actions of the U.S. in Syria, where chemical weapons are being exported and where some provocations are possible. After all, there are many enemies of a peaceful settlement of the Syrian conflict: both abroad and among Arab monarchical regimes, which are Washington’s closest allies.

Vladimir Putin said, in this regard, that the damage from possible sanctions would be mutual, because in today’s world, everything is interconnected, and everything is interdependent. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich, meanwhile, has said that Moscow will have to respond to Washington’s possible sanctions, and not necessarily in kind.

Viktor Mikhin, a member of Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

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