The US told Syria’s opposition on Monday that it should drop conditions — such as ceasefires, detainee releases, and access to aid for besieged areas — for “proximity talks” with the Assad regime. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the issues should be part of the discussions:
By being able to have talks, hopefully, ideally, you can start to get at the issues that are most of prime importance, which is a cease-fire and humanitarian access.It’s hard to do that when you’re not even having a dialogue. It’s certainly hard to do that when, as we saw, people are being bombed. He insisted, “If you put preconditions on it, you make it too easy, certainly for the regime and its supporters, to use that as an excuse not to talk and not to sit down and not to begin any dialogue.”
According to two aid workers, US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a London conference last Thursday that the opposition was to blame for the failure of talks in Geneva the previous day. He said he anticipated three months of bombing during which time “the opposition will be decimated”.
The State Department initially denied the account. Kirby stepped back on Monday — “I wasn’t party to this conversation” and “I don’t know of any prediction he’s made in terms of this many months” — although he insisted, “There’s been no badgering of the opposition.” He continued: [Kerry] has been very open and frank about his very real concern that should support to the Assad regime continue, should Russian military activity still be designed to go after opposition groups instead of terrorists, that the situation in Syria is not going to get better, probably will get worse, and could go on in a very unfortunate way.
The coordinator of the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said Monday:
The administration is saying it is testing the good faith of the other side. But when you are testing these things and it fails, the price that is being paid is horrendous death and the expansion of extremism and terrorism on the ground.
The discussions in Geneva were suspended last Wednesday after less than five days. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura scheduled the next session for February 25, but the opposition-rebel bloc maintains that ceasefires and aid must be discussed before any attempt at “proximity talks”.Kerry will join other Ministers in Munich on Thursday in a meeting of the 20-nation International Syria Support Group to discuss the situation.