Fifth round of Geneva negotiations reveals internal obstacles

From March 23 to March 31, 2017, the fifth round of talks took place in Geneva since the resumption of talks  in 2016. The objective of this round was to work on four fundamental issues: interim governance, elections, constitution and the complex of counter-terrorism / security / confidence building. In the process, a timeline was meant to be developed and organisational matters to be settled, in order to promote Syria’s transition. In the course of the round of talks, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura presented another non-paper, in which a detailed agenda for the discussion of the various issues was proposed. In his stakeout speech, however, he emphasised that the non-papers, which the UN likes to use, are meant as input for the discussion and hence are not being published. He also expressed his delight that, within each individual basket, the discussions had been revolving rather around substance than around the transition’s form and procedure.

Staffan de Mistura welcomes Naser Al-Hariri, spokesman of the HNC © UN Photo / Violaine Martin

In an interview on March 29, though, Hawas Sadoon, representative of the Kurdish National Council in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and member of the Opposition Delegation’s advisory board, confirmed the impression that, during the negotiations, the regime’s delegates have been deliberately trying to detract from the transition issue by introducing more remote questions into the talks. Thus, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Gennadi Gatilof, questions  Naser al Hariri, the chairman of the High Negotiations Committee, why there is still no unitary Opposition Delegation. The Cairo-/Moscow-Platform and the Astana-Group not being represented in the Opposition’s delegation serves, according to Gatilof, as an excuse to the regime to delay the implementation of UN resolution 2254, which stipulates a consistent delegation. Bashar Al-Jaafari, chairman of the regime’s delegation, had expressed himself accordingly beforehand. The Cairo/-Moscow-platform defines itself as part of the opposition, yet it is – as the Astana-group –  not a member of the HNC. Its members support a number of positions significantly different from the HNC’s, as with regard to Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation, for instance.

Representatives of the Cairo-Group in Geneva

The opposition in turn asked Gatilof to put pressure on the Regime to take the negotiations more seriously and to comply with the UN resolution. Since the Kurdish National Council has suspended its participation until the Opposition Delegation explicitly commits to the KNC’s demands for raising the Kurdish Question within the negotiations, the conditions for a successful continuation of the talks are unfavourable, though. 

Shortly before the beginning of the fifth round of talks, the KNC had released a document, that called for an increased presence of representatives of the Kurdish population and other population groups within the negotiations. This paper provided for some tension within the High Negotiations Committee, since some representatives of the Arab Opposition declared the Kurdish delegates’ demands as unacceptable. KNC delegate Abdulhakim Bashar put the opposition on notice that the KNC would withdraw from the negotiation process, in case the Kurdish representatives’ demands are not being accepted.

De Mistura attends meeting of the HNC © UN Photo / Violaine Martin

On March 30, at last, Dr. Abdulhakim Bashar, member of the High Negotiation Committee, Fuad Aliko, member of the negotiation delegation, and Hawas Sadoon, member of the advisory board, declared their preliminary withdrawal from the current round of negotiations. In their declaration, they questioned the credibility of the High Negotiation Committee, which had committed to the protection of the rights of the Kurds and other population groups in written form. As long as a more intensive dialogue remained impossible and the Kurdish Question as well as the concerns of other, non-Arab population groups remained unaddressed, the KNC’s participation in the current round of negotiations would be pointless. The KNC’s representatives furthermore declared, that they will consider any resolutions taken and documents produced during their absence as non-binding.

Capacity Building: Kurdish National Council in Syria
Berlin, April 201.