Point man was sent to Damascus to assess situation

India says it is ready for the international conference on Syria, which begins in Geneva on January 22, even as Iran’s participation hangs in the balance following remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

In preparation for the Geneva II Conference, India sent its point man for West Asia, Sandeep Kumar, to Syria late last month. The aim was to get a firsthand assessment of the developments, official sources said.

Besides meeting a variety of official and government representatives, Mr. Kumar, Joint Secretary (West Asia and North America) in the Ministry of External Affairs, met Hassan Abdul Azim, head of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, the main Opposition within Syria.

The visit also helped in assessing the ongoing destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and fashioning a holistic approach to the ground situation in the country, said the officials. “With the United Nations formally dispatching invitations to various countries, including India, South Block is ready with its homework all done,” they said.

India’s desire to participate in the international meeting was backed by Russia when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow last October. Since then, New Delhi has been putting in place building blocks that would make it a useful participant at the Geneva meeting.

Assistance

India has already offered $1 million for use in destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and related facilities by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It has also offered the services of its experts in the destruction and verification activities and training for personnel participating in the destruction. As opposed to the U.S. and Russia, India has completed destruction of its chemical weapons.

It was around Christmas — days after the U.N. finalised the list of attendees for Geneva-II — that India got to know that it would also participate. The first meeting had produced the Geneva Communiqué that backed a political transition without seeking the ouster of President Bashar-al Assad.

India had a brief tryst with the Opposition in Syria during its participation as an observer in the West-backed Friends of Syria grouping, which had unsuccessfully tried to push for regime change.

However, for the present, South Block is keenly watching the January 13 meeting in Paris between Mr. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which will also take up the issue of Iran’s participation.

Iran has objected to Mr. Kerry suggesting that it play a constructive role from the sidelines.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying Tehran was ready to participate in the conference but would accept only offers “that preserve the honour of the Islamic republic.”