Syrian opposition talks with Russia and Iran

MUNICH Sat Feb 2, 2013 6:16pm EST

1 of 8. Syria’s Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi (L) meets Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili (2nd L) in Damascus Feburary 2, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Credit: Reuters/Sana

Related Topics

MUNICH (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition leader met the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran on Saturday, opening a window to a possible breakthrough in efforts to broker an end to Syria's civil war.

Russia and Iran have been the staunchest allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout an armed uprising, and any understandings they might reach with Assad's foes could help overcome the two sides' refusal to negotiate.

At an annual international security conference in Munich, Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib had talks with Russia's Sergei Lavrov that may have been made possible by Alkhatib signaling readiness to talk to Damascus.

"Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed," Alkhatib said after the meeting.

After a 45-minute meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Alkhatib told Reuters: "We agreed we have to find a solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people."

He also met separately with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

Alkhatib's purpose in his meetings was "to discuss finding a way to remove the regime with the least possible bloodshed and loss of life," he said.

Russia has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing out Assad out or pressuring him to end the civil war, in which more than 60,000 people have died. But Moscow has also tried to distance itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

"The talks about Syria are intensifying and the Iranians have been drawn in. Let's see how it all ends," one diplomatic source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"BIG SIGNAL"

Alkhatib put his authority within the opposition movement at risk earlier this week when he broke ranks to say he would be willing to meet Syrian officials to discuss a transition if political prisoners arrested during the uprising were freed.

The opposition coalition's 12-member politburo then told Alkhatib not to respond to any proposals made in Munich without consulting with them first, with one opposition source citing concern that Alkhatib's move would damage the revolt's morale.

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Alkhatib's apparent readiness to meet Assad envoys outside Syria, calling him "not only courageous but smart".

She also voiced concern that Iran had recently increased military support for Assad.

While some headway was apparently being made in Munich, Iranian media said that Saeed Jalili of Iran's Supreme National Security Council had traveled to Damascus to meet officials and help Assad "stand against plots hatched by global arrogance" - an allusion to the United States and other Western powers.

A comment by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this week that Assad's chances of staying in power were getting "smaller and smaller" was regarded in some quarters as a sign of a shift in the Kremlin's Syria policy.

At the same time, Syrian opposition figure Hassan Bali, in Munich as an independent observer, called Alkhatib's meeting with Biden "a big signal from the Americans" that they were upgrading support for rebels fighting to topple Assad.

Biden said he had urged Alkhatib "to isolate extremist elements within the broader opposition and to reach out to, and be inclusive of, a broad range of communities inside Syria, including Alawites, Christians and Kurds".

LACK OF LEADERSHIP

There was little evidence at the Munich conference that the U.S. and Russian positions on Assad were getting any closer.

"The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of Assad is the single biggest reason for the continuing tragedy in Syria," Lavrov told the conference.

Biden on the other hand said the White House was "convinced that President Assad, a tyrant hell-bent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead Syrian people and he must go".

Russia is Assad's main arms supplier and, with Iran, has been among his strongest supporters during the 22-month-old conflict, which began with peaceful protests and evolved into civil war after Assad tried to crush unrest by military force.

U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, a long-time critic of the Obama administration's reluctance to intervene in Syria, said in Munich that the United States and its allies had "stood by and watched the massacre of 60,000 innocent people".

McCain told reporters Obama should have explained to the American people the need to intervene - but that "requires leadership", he said. "And so far there is no American presidential leadership."

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Myra MacDonald and Alexandra Hudson in Munich, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Jason Webb and Robin Pomeroy)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (11)
kenradke11 wrote:
I can’t wait until the rebels reach the headquarters of madman tyrant Assad. He WILL fall and hard at that! The Syrian people will be victorious and new government will not be the Muslim brotherhood but a democratically elect government body….I loathe to see that day when justice is served! The International community should be ashamed of allowing this slaughter of innocents to continue just because they worry about Russia and Iran getting directly involved…they have the greatest blood on their hands!

Feb 02, 2013 7:08am EST  --  Report as abuse
Tiu wrote:
One wonders if the people pushing this faux revolution have read the tale of Phillipe Egalite, Duc d’Orleans, who likewise fanned the flames of revolt… on behalf of his handlers, and found his reward – kneeling before Madame l’Guillotine. Probably not the reward he was expecting!

Feb 02, 2013 11:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
This article offers zero news but same ol’ propaganda.

Question is: why rebels(but actually their handlers) are reversing course?

More important question is: has the fake revolution succeded or failed in Syria?

The West has been trying to force a deal it cut with the muslim brotherhood to put them in power in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria… but has failed in Syria. The Muslim brotherhood can not win an election in Syria. That’s why the West is trying to impose it on Syrians by force.

Al khalib who is a muslim brotherhood member is not “a leader” of the Syrian opposition. Syria has many aspiring opposition groups and that guy is not their leader. The West is giving him that title to prop him up and is probably trying to negotiate with Russia to sideline Assad(probably by allowing him to stay(without power) until 2014 and preventing him from running). So they are not looking to solve the problem but are trying to kick the can down the road.

Here is why they are trying(faking) to negotiate.

After failing the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Libyan options in syria, the West is now pursuing the Ivory Coast option which is to impose a power sharing that will sideline Assad even if he remains president.

Syria, Iran, Russia, China must remain vigilant.

Feb 02, 2013 3:27pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.