Syria Opposition Meeting Planned For Riyadh
Saudi Arabia will host a meeting of the Syrian opposition later this month as the United Nations prepares to convene new peace talks with the Syrian government.
They are counting on energies to be buoyed up by recent victories over the Islamic State group in Deir Ezzor and other towns further down the Euphrates Valley towards the Iraqi border.
The meeting will be held in Riyadh from November 22 to 24 at the request of opposition factions. The plan is to form a "joint negotiating delegation to resume direct negotiations in Geneva under the auspices of the UN," the official Saudi Press Agency reported late on Monday.
The latest round of UN-brokered peace talks is scheduled for November 28. U.N. Special Envoy Stefan De Mistura said the talks on Syria, seven rounds of which have been held since the start of the war in 2011, had now reached a "moment of truth.” The moment is because ISIS, the main terrorist group fighting the Syrian government, has been purged from its long-standing strongholds of Raqqah and Deir Ezzor in the east of the country.
This year, the Geneva talks have been somewhat over shadowed by a separate peace process in the Kazakh capital Astana, sponsored by rebel supporter Turkey and Syrian government allies Iran and Russia.
Those talks have resulted in the establishment of three safe zones in key battlegrounds between the government and the rebels, and plans for a fourth. Those zones have not been 100% effective, but are perceived to be more than the U.N. has been able to deliver.
In May, De Mistura told reporters from Swissinfo in Geneva that the two peace processes are working in tandem: “We want to make sure both are working in sync. Any de-escalation cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon.”
When asked if the Geneva peace process is still relevant with parallel talks by Iran, Russia and Turkey, De Mistura says he hopes the Astana agreement will bring about “a significant de-escalation in violence and help shape an environment conducive to the political intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.”
Late on Monday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis voiced strong support for the peace process, vowing that the coalition Washington has led against jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq would remain committed to the search for a lasting political solution.
"We're not just going to walk away right now until the Geneva process has traction," Mattis told reporters. "We are going to make sure we set the conditions for a diplomatic solution."
Mattis and the U.S. did not comment on the separate talks led by Iran, Russia and Turkey. Nor were they invited to those talks. The U.S. currently backs the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria - well against the wishes of Iran, Russia and Turkey.