Stormy start to Syria talks in Geneva

Geneva, Jan 23: The first day of the Geneva II peace conference in the Swiss resort city of Montreux had a stormy start, as Syrian government and its main political opposition indulged in bitter accusations.

As the future of President Bashar Al-Assad featured prominently in the peace summit’s opening speeches, there was little in the way of a conciliatory tone from either side.

Exchange of bitter accusations were witnessed, as the Syrian opposition and the US said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had no legitimacy and he must step down from power, BBC reported.

Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, sought that President Assad be removed from the president office, and accused the regime’s forces of supporting Al Qaeda on the ground in Syria, The Independent reported.

Jarba also called on President Assad’s delegation to “immediately” transfer “total” power to an interim governing body.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry had said that President Assad could have no place in a transitional government.

“We see only one option, negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent. That means that Assad will not be part of that transition government.

“There is no way, no way possible, that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can regain legitimacy to govern,” he said.

Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who first had a terse exchange with the UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the length of his speech, said only Syrians could decide Assad’s fate, BBC reported.

The Syrian minister accused Western-backed states of worsening the situation by arming the opposition forces of Syria and supporting terrorism in the country. He accused the opposition fighters of being traitors.

Syrian conflict has left over 100,000 dead and millions of people displaced.

The ongoing peace summit, co-sponsored by Russia and the US, is discussing the Geneva communique which lays out a political transition plan for Syria.

Though Wednesday’s initial meeting, involving speeches from 40 or so foreign ministers, has concluded, the direct talks are scheduled to begin in Geneva Friday.

Chaired by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the talks have brought together members of the Syrian regime and opposition for the first time since 2011.

IANS