Saudi Arabia backed Syrian oppositions' negotiation committee on Friday said that they are boycotting the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to be held in Sochi, Russia on January 29-30.
The statement was issued at the United Nation led talks in Vienna between different parties involved in the conflict in Syria. "The decision has been made to not go to Sochi," a spokesperson for the opposition High Negotiations Committee told Efe.
The main agenda of the Sochi talks was the creation of a commission, agreed upon by all parties, to draft a new constitution for Syria.
Besides the Assad government and the main elements of the Syrian opposition, Russia has invited the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, China, France and Britain - as well as the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to send delegates to the conference.
The earlier Russian sponsored Astana agreement had managed to reduce the intensity of violence by establishing de-escalation zones. Russia, Turkey and Iran in September 2017 agreed to establish the zones in Eastern Ghouta and the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama, and act as guarantors for de-escalation of fighting.
Critics argue that the decision to boycott the Sochi talks by the Syrian opposition is because of the pressure from the Western countries and Saudi Arabia. The ultimate strategy of the United States and Saudis in Syria seems to be about the removal of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and for them, the peace process is about the regime change.
UN-sponsored Syria Talks
The previous multiple rounds of UN peace talks made little progress in ending the Syrian war that has already killed thousands and displaced around 11 million people.
The opposition leaders and officials of the government in Damascus, who spent two days in Vienna, did not meet face-to-face, instead exchanged proposals via UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
De Mistura told reporters that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would decide whether the UN would take part in next week's Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Representatives of President Bashar al Assad's government accused the US and Saudi Arabia of seeking to sabotage any efforts toward a political solution in Syria.
A ‘practical document’ drawn up by the United States, Jordan, Britain, France and Saudi Arabia for the ‘solution’ to the Syrian conflict recommended to include “a specific and immediate focus on discussion of a reformed constitution and organization of free and fair elections.”
The Syrian government’s envoy to the talks, Bashar al-Ja‘afari, calling that document as “totally unacceptable” said “our people have not and will never accept a solution that is parachuted onto them or that is carried on tanks”
“The goal of the conference in Sochi is to engage in a national intra-Syrian dialogue without foreign interference. The conference will be attended by about 1,600 participants who will reflect the various components of Syrian society,” he added.
Kurds invited for Sochi Talks
According to report, the representatives of the Kurds have been invited to the Sochi talks. "We are totally focused on preparations for the Congress," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharov said.
"Invitations have been sent to representatives of the Kurds and now it is up to them to decide whether to accept the invitations and take an active part in the event," said Zakharov.
The invitation comes despite Turkey rejecting the involvement of Syrian Kurds in the talks. Due to the opposition from Turkey, Sochi talks, which were supposed to be held in November, got postponed twice.
Turkey has recently launched military offensive ‘Operation Olive Brach’ in Syria’s Afrin region, which is currently under the Kurdish autonomous administration. Ankara considers the YPG and its other Kurdish forces in Syria as the Syrian affiliates of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a banned group in Turkey.
With the military offensive, Turkey plans to establish a ‘safe area’ along its border with Syria after pushing out Kurdish forces.
Kurds Request Support From Assad
Meanwhile, pointing towards a dramatic shift in the Syrian Kurdish strategy in establishing an ‘sovereign state’, the Kurdish administration in Afrin has called upon the government of Bashar al-Assad to intervene and protect the area’s borders from Turkish offensive.
“While we insist that we will continue to defend Afrin against rabid external attacks and will confront the Turkish attempts at occupying Afrin, we invite the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign duties towards Afrin and to protect its borders with Turkey from attack,” the autonomous authority governing Afrin said in a statement on Thursday.
The Kurdish backed Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) and Syrian government had been at loggerheads for long. According to political experts, the present shift is because of Kurds in Northern Syria being ‘ditched’ by their traditional ally – United States- as Turkish forces expand its military operations in Afrin.
Till now, US had been providing SDF with military intelligence, air support, advanced weapons and training in their fight against the Islamic State.
Earlier, Damascus had warned that it would shoot down any Turkish military aircraft that violates Syrian airspace. We warn the Turkish leadership that if they initiate combat operations in the Afrin area, that will be considered an act of aggression by the Turkish Army,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad said.
The Turkish offensive against Kurds in Afrin is backed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its offspring the Syrian National Army.
(with inputs from IANS)