A Syrian official said in state media Sunday that President Bashar al-Assad will not be making any concessions to rebel groups in upcoming peace talks.
These peace talks, located in Geneva, are supposed to begin Monday but may be delayed over disagreement about which parties belong at the table and which do not, The Associated Press reports
Syria has been ravaged by almost five years of civil war, resulting in the deaths of more than 250,000 people. The peace process is an attempt to wind down the conflict, but so far the United Nations brokered process has hit several snags. One of the snags is that both sides are digging in their heels. Just as the Syrian government doesn’t intend to make any concessions, the rebels, too, have said that Assad should play no role in Syria’s political transition.
But as far as Assad is concerned, the only point at which he will agree to step down is if he is voted out. For now, Assad seems to have the upper hand, a feat accomplished with serious backing from Moscow. Syrian forces took back Rabia, which was the last rebel-held town in Latakia, the mainstay of Assad’s Alawite minority base and a key port. Rebel forces have held Rabia since 2012. With Rabia under government control, the military will employ it as a base to launch assaults on rebel territory in the Idlib province. First, Syrian forces are combing the area to clear it of mines, explosives and other booby traps.
Russian airstrikes proved crucial to the success of the Rabia operation.
Assad isn’t feeling pressure to come to the table, but has said that he will. But according to Mohamad Alloush, negotiator for the rebel opposition, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is applying some serious pressure to the rebel side to drop some of its demands.
“There will be a big response to these pressures,” Alloush told Reuters, adding that he was still unsure whether talks would take place this week. What seems likely is that the talks will not take place before Wednesday.
If no political solution is reached, Vice President Joe Biden pledged Saturday that the U.S. is prepared to use military force in Syria. An official scrambled to clarify Biden’s remarks, saying that military force would only be used against the Islamic State. Nevertheless, Biden discussed with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu the possibility of supplying rebel groups with weapons to unseat Assad.
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