Syria rebels say Russia is prepared to drop Assad

 

The two sides in Syria’s civil war are due to start talking on Friday after three years of savage strife.

Although an overall settlement is seen as some way off, both the regime and the rebels are said to be receptive to the establishment of humanitarian corridors for aid, localised ceasefires and exchanges of prisoners.

The protagonists will be in separate rooms in the morning with the United Nations mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, acting as messenger, with the plan they will meet face to face in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the opposition claims there are signs that President Bashar al-Assad is losing in his attempts to cling to power. On Thursday night Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the Syrian opposition, claimed that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, has assured him that the Kremlin would not keep propping up Mr Assad.

Separately, the Foreign Minister of China, an ally of the regime, when asked about the Syrian President’s future, stressed that all options were under consideration.

“We met Mr Lavrov in Paris last week and he assured us that Russia would not hold on to Assad,” said Mr Jarba. “He said that the negotiations should be between the Syrians themselves and they should reach a solution.”

The Geneva I Communiqué, issued after a previous meeting stipulated that the President cannot play a part in the post-conflict political future.

The regime, which was not present at those talks, had repeatedly rejected this; Walid Moallem, the Foreign Minister, reiterated this on the first day of the conference in Montreaux in a belligerent speech.

Nevertheless, there was a distinct change of tone from Syrian officials in the course of Wednesday’s session. Mr Moallem’s final remarks were more measured than the opening statements.

Opposition members and international diplomats stated that they appreciated that the initial outbursts were partly for official consumption in Damascus. 

The Syrian Foreign Minister was prepared to stay “not one or two or three sessions”, but for a long-term dialogue, “whatever it takes”.

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