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No preconditions, Russia tells Syrian rebels
July 9, 2013, 2:14 pm

Ahmad Jabra, far right, has called for more weapons to be delivered to the rebels [Xinhua]

Ahmad Jabra, far right, has called for more weapons to be delivered to the rebels [Xinhua]

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is urging the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), which has been fighting the government of President Bashar Al-Assad for more than two years, to set aside preconditions for joining the proposed Geneva 2 peace talks.

Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement on Monday that recently elected SNC chief Ahmad Jarba “needs to explicitly and unambiguously express readiness to send envoys to the peace conference in Geneva, without any preconditions…”

The international conference on Syria is the joint initiative of Russia and the US and was agreed at the meeting of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow on May 8.

The date has not been set yet, but the conference will serve as the follow-up to last year’s Geneva meeting that drafted a peace roadmap.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says that Jarba’s recent comments “raise numerous questions about the coalition’s future actions and, above all, its commitment to a political solution…”

The rebel leader has refused to attend the proposed Geneva conference unless his group is provided with arms and strengthened militarily, according to a statement he made to Reuters.

“Tactical ploy”

Fahad Kamnakesh, the head of the Syrian Arab News Agency’s Moscow bureau, says Jarba’s comments are part of a tactical ploy by the Syrian opposition group.

“The first thing the newly elected opposition leader did was to claim that he wouldn’t participate in the conference. That is because the opposition is weak and on the defensive and the government forces are prevailing. The opposition cannot go with that to the conference. They want first to receive arms from the West and get some advantage,” Kamnakesh told The BRICS Post.

Reuters earlier reported that the SNC expects to receive advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia that would allow the rebels to change their weakened military situation.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the EU for not extending the arms embargo.

“It is hard for me to imagine why anyone would supply arms to those armed opposition groups in Syria, whose composition is not fully clear to us. If the United States and the US Secretary of State recognise one of the key Syrian opposition organisations, Jabjat al-Nusra, as a terrorist group and officially recognise its connection to Al-Qaeda, how can they supply arms to that opposition? Where will these arms eventually end up? What will be their role?” Putin said speaking at the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg last month.

Yury  Zinin, Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Partnership between Civilisations at MGIMO-University and a Middle East expert, says the need for a common ground has become urgent.

“Any kind of negotiation is better than violence. Russia is calling for that and China is supporting the Russian stand. The West, though not really eager to support, do understand that the longer the war lasts, the more victims get involved into the conflict and the more dangerous is the threat of the conflict’s spillover to neighbouring countries,”  Zinin told The BRICS Post.

“The opposition, supported by the West, thinks they can take power in Syria. But the war lasted for 2 years now and they haven’t achieved anything. What is needed is to look for common ground,” he added.

Most analysts however believe the initiative of the Geneva 2 talks, brokered by Russia and the US in May, is going to be hard to implement.

While Damascus had expressed its willingness to join the peace talks, the opposition has already set preconditions.

The Syrian conflict has more than two sides with factionalism dividing the opposition.

Kamnakesh says the onus to bring a united opposition to the discussion table lies squarely on the West.

“Russia has always been urging the West – EU and the US – to influence the opposition, since they actually influence them all the time. So why don’t they use their influence to make them unite and then participate in the conference? That’s the major hinderance,” Kamnakesh said.

By Daria Chernyshova in Moscow, Russia for The BRICS Post