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CAUCASUS >Russia’s Lavrov to meet Syrian opposition in Moscow

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold talks with officials from Syria’s political opposition on Jan. 27, Moscow said, but it appeared representatives from armed rebel groups were not invited.

The meeting in Moscow comes after two days of Russian and Turkey-brokered talks between the Syrian regime and armed rebel leaders in Kazakhstan, which ended on Jan. 24 without a major breakthrough but a decision to form a trilateral mechanism between Turkey, Russia and Iran to foresee a cease-fire that is mostly holding across the country since Dec. 30, 2016.  

“We have invited on Friday [Dec. 27] all the opposition representatives from the political opposition that wish to come to Moscow and we will brief them about what happened in Astana,” Lavrov told lawmakers on Jan. 25.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry could not say which groups from Syria’s dizzying array of opposition - some of whom are dismissed by rebels fighting on the ground as not genuine -would be represented. 

A rebel negotiator from the armed opposition delegation that attended the Astana talks said they had not been invited to attend the meeting with Lavrov, but did not rule out heading to Moscow if they were asked.  

“We did not receive an invitation,” Fares Buyush told AFP from Istanbul after the rebels left Astana. 

“The problem isn’t the invitation, it’s the topic of discussion. If it’s serious and we’ll be discussing a national issue, we’ll go to the end of the world,” Buyush said.

Representatives from Damascus and the armed rebels in the Kazakh capital were expected to hold their first face-to-face talks since the conflict erupted in 2011, but the rebels refused amid a bitter war of words and mediators had to shuttle between the two sides.

The Kremlin on Jan. 25 hailed the Syria peace talks as a success and said more might be held in future if there was a need. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters he thought the talks might help give impetus to troubled U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva.

Russia has given rebels a draft version of a new constitution for Syria drawn up by Moscow to speed up political negotiations to end the conflict, the Kremlin’s envoy said on Jan. 24.

“We have handed the Syrian armed opposition a draft constitution of Syria prepared by Russian specialists for them to study,” Russia’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters. “We did this exclusively to accelerate the process” to end the war.  

The rebels, however, told AFP they had refused to discuss the draft constitution with Moscow.  

“The Russians put the draft on the table and we didn’t even pick it up,” a source from the rebel delegation in Astana told AFP. “We told them we refuse to discuss this.”

“We have managed ... to give birth to the Astana process,” Lavrentyev also told reporters on Jan. 24.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department called on Russia, Turkey and Iran “to press regime, pro-regime, and opposition forces to abide by the ceasefire in order to create an environment more conducive to intra-Syrian political discussions.”

Acting spokesman Mark Toner said: “We look forward to the resumption of U.N.-sponsored intra-Syrian talks between the regime and opposition groups.”

The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who was attending the Astana talks, said he now hoped to reconvene peace talks in Geneva next month.

“We [the U.N.] are the main player in regards to the political process,” de Mistura said. “The political process should continue in Geneva ... We cannot allow another ceasefire to be, in a way, wasted, because of a lack of a political process.”

January/25/2017

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