JEDDAH/SOCHI: The Syrian peace conference in Russia ended on Tuesday with a call for democratic elections, but key opposition demands were ignored after a day marred by squabbles and heckling of the Russian foreign minister.
A final statement said Syrians must decide their future through elections, but did not reveal whether Syrian refugees would be allowed to take part. Syrians had the “exclusive right” to pick their political system free of foreign intervention, it added.
However, the opposition rejected the idea. Democratic elections under the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad are impossible, the opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News. “Democratic elections need a neutral, safe, objective and proper environment,” he added.
He said that more than 10 million displaced Syrians, scattered all over the world, have the right to elect whoever they want. “No elections can be carried out in Syria without those people. They didn’t choose to leave their country. They were forced because of the regime’s brutality and it’s their right to vote freely under the supervision of the United Nations, not in the environment controlled by the brutal Assad regime.”
The participants also agreed to set up a committee to redraw the Syrian constitution at the conference, which much of the opposition said aimed to serve the interests of Assad and his close ally, Moscow.
Al-Aridi said: “The constitutional issue is part of the whole package of UN Resolution 2254. There is an election and more importantly there is the transitional governing body. There is a political transition within which all these efforts can be exerted in order to end the war and end the conflict between the people of Syria and the brutal Assad regime.”
The congress also urged the preservation of security forces without calling for reform, another opposition demand.
Al-Aridi said Syria’s security departments needed to be reformed because their hands were blood-stained and many of them had contributed to or participated in war crimes. “The system has to be reformed so Syria can go back to life.”
“This conference is tailor-made for Assad and his terrorist regime,” said Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition group that operates in northern Syria. “The Sochi statement does not concern us and is not even a subject of discussion.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov helped open the conference by reading out a statement from President Vladimir Putin, saying the conditions were ripe for Syria to turn “a tragic page” in its history.
Asked if Putin was honestly working to have peace in Syria, Al-Aridi said: “We hope that Putin is serious, and we hope he can deliver. We know that he can but the most important thing is if he wants to.”
Hastily organized, snubbed by the opposition and the Kurds, the talks achieved little and exposed the limits of Moscow’s efforts, analysts said.
“This was a failed Moscow project with the aim of creating an instrument to keep Assad (in power),” said Alexei Malashenko, head of research at Moscow’s Institute for the Dialogue of Civilizations.
“In terms of credibility of the people represented, it was quite ridiculous,” Thomas Pierret, an analyst at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
However, Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed “satisfaction” over the results of the congress, the Kremlin said.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview that he would have a “real problem” with Turkey’s intervention against a Kurdish militia in Syria if it turned into an outright “invasion.”
“If the operation became more than fighting a potential terrorist threat on the Turkish border and turns out to be an invasion operation, we would have a real problem with that,” Macron told Le Figaro.
Reacting to Macron’s remarks, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said any suggestion that Ankara had broader designs in Syria, beyond pushing the YPG back from the border, was “totally wrong.”
“The whole world knows, or should know, that Turkey is not engaged in an invasion,” he told reporters in Ankara.
Macron said Turkey’s operation required Europe and its allies to “have discussions and take decisions.”