Moscow (AFP) – Syrian opposition figures and representatives of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began talks in Moscow Wednesday but there was little hope that they would make a breakthrough in ending the country’s brutal war.
The talks between opposition groups tolerated by Damascus and a Syrian delegation led by ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari came as Kurdish forces battled the Islamic State group around Kobane, after expelling them from the strategic town on the Turkish border.
The rise of Islamic State – which was threatening Wednesday to execute a Japanese hostage and a captured Jordanian airforce pilot – has changed the West’s approach to Syria and spurred hope that the warring sides might find common ground in the face of a mutual foe.
But expectations are low for the Moscow-sponsored talks – aimed at restarting long-stalled peace negotiations to wind down the nearly four-year civil war – as the main opposition group, the exiled National Coalition, has refused to attend.
The leading internationally recognised opponents of Assad have stayed away, arguing that Russia – Assad’s most powerful remaining ally – cannot be an honest broker.
The Syrian government delegation joined the closed-door Moscow talks after Assad’s opponents held a series of meetings on Monday and Tuesday to thrash out a common platform.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who has said that the Moscow encounter should lay the groundwork for future UN-mediated talks, was set to meet the Syrian delegations later in the day.
Two previous rounds of talks in Geneva ended without success.
An opposition source at the meeting told AFP that the 32 opposition representatives attending were putting forward a “ten-point list” aimed at defusing a civil war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 2011. Key priorities include calls to end bombing campaigns, freeing political prisoners, and establishing “mechanisms for the delivery of humanitarian aid”.
The source said that the opposition figures would not immediately insist on establishing a transitional government to ease Assad from power.