Syria Live Coverage: The Assad Regime Negotiating a Deal in Moscow?

Enduring America – 27, 2012 at 13:00 | Scott Lucas in EA Live, EA Middle East and Turkey

1137 GMT: Syria. As Russian officials meet a Syrian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad, Moscow’s Foreign Ministry has put out a lengthy “holding” statement.

The Ministry avoided blame of either side — except for implicit condemnation of insurgents for “trying to drag Palestinians (in Syria) into the conflict” — while criticising outside intervention. It declared:

    There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. The only way is to begin dialogue and talks to initiate political process. We will maintain active contacts with Damascus and all sectors of the Syrian opposition, as well as external players.

The Ministry also downplayed any threat from chemical weapons, “The use of WMDs is inadmissible and has been rejected by the international community, Syrian representative said in the UN.”

0937 GMT: Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will fly to Moscow on Saturday for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We plan to discuss a range of issues linked to a political and diplomatic settlement in Syria, including Brahimi’s efforts aimed at ending the violence and the launch of a comprehensive national dialogue,” spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad is heading a Syrian delegation which is in discussions today with Russian colleagues.

Lukashevich denied a US-Russian initiative to end the political cirsis, “There was not and is not such a plan and it is not being discussed.”

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Lavrov flew to Dublin for a suddenly-called meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, followed by a discussion with Brahimi. Talks ensued between American and Russian officials.

0553 GMT: Bahrain. The Information Affairs Authority has issued a general response to detained activist Zainab AlKhawaja’s opinion piece in The New York Times on Christmas Day.

The response does not respond directly about AlKhawaja’s situation or her specific claims of the denial of rights and political reforms. Instead, it re-asserts, “Since the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) report [in November 2011], Bahrain has been entirely committed to progressing by prioritizing human rights concerns….The Government’s persistent willingness to address grievances and adhere to international treaties must be acknowledged.”

0548 GMT: Syria. Claimed footage has been posted of the surrender of scores of regime troops after insurgents captured the town of Harem in the north, just over a mile from the Turkish border.

0545 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees claim 164 people were killed on Wednesday.

The Committees assert that 42 people were slain in a single incident, the shelling of Qahtaniya farm near Raqqa in Idlib Province.

0525 GMT: Syria. An interesting conjunction of two stories on Wednesday, following this week’s meeting between United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and President Assad in Damascus….

First, Syrian and Russian officials said Assad is sending Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad to Moscow to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Then Lavrov’s deputy Mikhail Bogdanov said Brahimi will visit the Russian capital on Monday.

Another version from Russian media and a Lebanese source offered an even quicker timeline. Syria’s Muqdad has already left for Moscow, with discussions today and Brahimi will arrive in Russia on Saturday. Neither Syrian nor Russian officials would offer further information; however, a “Lebanese official close to Damascus” said Muqdad had been sent to seek Russian advice on a possible agreement, adding optimistically, “There is a new mood now and something good is happening.”

So is there a political deal being discussed next week? And does it involve anything more than the re-statement of June’s proposal, put forward by then-UN envoy Kofi Annan after an international meeting in Geneva, for a transitional government — but one in which Assad would not have to give up power immediately? That initiative was rejected by the insurgency and the Syrian opposition outside the country. So far there has been no reaction from anyone to yesterday’s development around Assad and Moscow.