MESOP Syria Daily: Did Kerry Give Ultimatum to Opposition Over Talks With Regime?

January 25 – by Scott Lucas – eaworldview – A “high-level source in the Syrian opposition” has accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of giving the opposition-rebel bloc an ultimatum: enter negotiations with the Assad regime or face a cut-off of support.According to the London-based al-Araby, Kerry delivered the message in a meeting with the coordinator of the opposition-rebel team, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, in Riyadh on Saturday.

The source said the discussion was “catastrophic and very bad”, as “Kerry carried the Russian and Iranian messages” about the international gathering planned for Geneva. He claimed the Secretary of State distanced himself from pressure on the Assad regime, saying, that “his country will not interfere in Syria, but will only fight terrorism and nothing else”.According to the report, Kerry stepped away from the explicit requirement that President Assad must leave power, replacing the call for a “transitional governing authority” — maintained by the UN and the international community since 2012 — with the objective of a “national unity government”.The opposition-rebel bloc, named in Saudi Arabia last week, has said that it will not begin talks until there are halts to Russian and regime bombing, release of detainees from regime prisons, and access to humanitarian aid for besieged areas.The source said Kerry asserted that the conditions did not have to be fulfilled, but should be part of the Geneva discussions.

In addition, Kerry allegedly supported modification of the opposition-rebel delegation by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura. Russia has objected to the 33-member opposition-rebel team, putting up an alternative list of 15 names including politicians close to Moscow and Kurdish representatives. Three Western diplomats said last week that Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had reached a compromise that invitations should be sent to both groups.A former President of the Syrian National Coalition and member of the opposition-rebel team advised caution over the report, as he said a final decision on the talks would be made on Tuesday:

Meanwhile, the Assad regime cast further doubt over the talks by indicating that it will make no concessions and repeating its objections to the opposition-rebel team.

“We are not going to give today what we did not give over the past five years,” said senior Baath Party official Hilal al-Hilal late Saturday. “This year will be the year of victory for Syria because of the heroic acts and sacrifices by its army and people.”Regime newspaper Tishrin said in an editorial on Sunday that the Geneva talks should not include “representatives for the agendas terrorist-supporting countries that seek a seat for terrorism at the dialogue table”. The reference was to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, all of whom back the opposition-rebel bloc.