Russian officials and Lakhdar Brahimi — the U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria — on Saturday strongly supported the Geneva plan as the basis for resolving the Syrian crisis, festering for nearly two years.
After talks in Moscow with Mr. Brahimi, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Geneva communiqué, which called for the end of violence and dialogue among all parties, should be the basis for any plan. Signed in June, the agreement, resulting from talks among the global powers, the U.N. and Kofi Annan — Mr. Brahimi’s predecessor — had called for the formation of transitional government, based on a pervasive intra-Syrian dialogue. However, the plan, did not seek without seeking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit — a stance that did not conform to Washington’s position that a solution could only emerge if Mr. Assad stepped down.
On Saturday, the Russians stressed that they would abide by the Geneva agreement and not seek the Mr. Assad’s removal. “Regarding Bashar al-Assad, he repeatedly said, both publically and in private... that he is not planning to leave, that he will remain in his post,” said Mr. Lavrov at the joint media conference with Mr. Brahimi. “There is no possibility to change this position.”
Mr. Brahimi lauded the agreement as a great achievement of Mr. Annan, Mr. Lavrov, Hillary Clinton and many others. But, he noted, under a cloud of ambiguity, that the Geneva communiqué may have to be amended to achieve progress. Mr. Brahimi’s pointed nuance was consistent with the position that he had adopted in Damascus where he had an extended stay of nearly a week before his arrival in Moscow. During his stay in Syria, Mr. Brahimi had advocated formation of a transitional government, which “would have full executive powers” till such time that elections were held. But he refrained from clarifying whether the Syrian transition would end with elections to Parliament or the Presidency, whose reigns for long have been held by the House of Assad.
Russian diplomacy, which is now in full swing, has, in the meantime, suffered a blow, with the invited leader of Syrian opposition Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib seemingly spurning Moscow’s invitation for talks. Mr. Khatib has demanded an apology from Russia for supporting Mr. Assad as a pre-condition for talks, and refused to travel to Moscow. “We have said frankly that we will not go to Moscow,” Mr. Khatib told al-Jazeera television.
Far from tendering an apology, Mr. Lavrov blasted the Syrian opposition for demanding “[Mr.] Assad’s ouster as a prerequisite for everything else”. However, Russia appeared flexible regarding the venue of talks, should the Syrian opposition leader have reservations regarding travelling to Moscow. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov had earlier said that the talks with Mr. Khatib could be held in Moscow or a foreign location such as Geneva or Cairo.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov expected that Mr. Brahimi would hold a three-way meeting in January with representatives from the United States and Russia to resolve the Syrian crisis. “We will hear what Lakhdar Brahimi says about the Syrian crisis and likely there will be a decision on a new ‘triple B’ meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, [U.S. Deputy Secretary of State] William Burns and Mikhail Bogdanov,” he said.
“But this will be in January, after the [Russian New Year] holidays,” he observed.