Key figures gather in Switzerland ahead of Syrian peace talks

Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Council will be included at a ‘later stage’

 Walid Muallem, Deputy Prime Minister of Syria:  will head the government delegation to UN-brokered peace talks. Photograph: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Walid Muallem, Deputy Prime Minister of Syria: will head the government delegation to UN-brokered peace talks. Photograph: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

 

Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem has been invited to head the government delegation to UN-brokered peace talks due to open in Geneva on Friday, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said on Wednesday. If Muallem comes, it would amount to an upgrade of the government team, originally consisting of deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad and UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari.

Mr Gatilov also said that the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Council had not been invited to the talks at this stage but UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who issued invitations, would include them at a “later stage”.

A Kurdish presence had become an obstacle to the start of talks due to objections from Turkey, which accuses the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union, a key component of the council, of being an offshoot of the rebel Turkish Kurdish Workers Party, which is fighting for autonomy from Ankara.

No preconditions

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The 15-member HNC team, dominated by armed fundamentalist factions, was, reportedly, divided on attendance, extending debate until Thursday.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said, however, that he had learned from HNC chairman Riad Hijab that the team would participate. The Riyadh-formed group is likely to be the main representative of armed factions, particularly during priority ceasefire negotiations. These are to be followed by the formation of a national unity government, which will draft a new constitution and hold elections.

The list of independent opposition figures likely to be present has changed from day to day, with hopefuls such as Kurdish chief Salih Muslim waiting in Lausanne and Geneva hotels for invitations. Veteran human rights activist Haytham Manna, who belongs to the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Council, headed by Mr Muslim, has said he would not participate until Mr Muslim and council co-chairwoman Ilham Ahmed are invited.

Exclusion

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Independents expected to attend include the Russian nominee and former Syrian deputy premier for economic affairs Qadri Jamil; defected diplomat Jihad Makdisi; secular activist Randa Kassis; Assyrian Christian Nimrod Suleiman; and Syrian tribal council coordinator Abbas Habib.

The first round of talks, if convened, are expected to last two to three weeks, followed by a pause for consultations, and will continue in this fashion for six months.