Diplomats from around the world are set to converge in Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday to attend the long anticipated ‘Geneva II’ conference to hold talks intended to find a political solution to the civil war in Syria.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy will lead the Egyptian delegation to the conference, said ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty on Tuesday. “We hope all parties concerned will be serious and engage in negotiations and talks in order to achieve the ultimate objective, of course to stop the ongoing bloodshed and building a democracy in Syria and to reflect all Syrians and their differences,” said the spokesman. Abdelatty added that Egypt hopes for the implementation of the June 2012 Geneva Communiqué, which concerns the establishment of a transitional governing body.
The future role of Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad has been a point of much contention among the warring Syrians as well as the international community, with Russia, Iran and China lending their support to the regime. The core group of the Friends of Syria, also known as the “London 11”, said in January, “[Al-]Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.” Egypt is a member of this core group; however, Abdelatty said that this is an issue for the Syrian people to decide, declining to elaborate further.
The 2012 document is the basis of the Geneva II talks, which calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body that “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent”.
In the lead up to the talks Fahmy welcomed the decision of the main Syrian opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), to attend the talks. The opposition’s attendance was dubious following the UN’s invitation for Iran to attend the talks; however, the offer was quickly rescinded after Tehran said it would not accept the conditions set out in the Communiqué of 2012. Abdelatty had no comment on Iran’s invitation, saying that the issue is up to the United Nations to decide.
The SNC previously refused to attend the talks without the condition of Al-Assad’s departure being in place. This condition was not granted but after an intense round of talks, the group agreed to attend and continue to push for Al-Assad’s ouster.
Al-Assad and his regime will be represented at the conference but he has shown little indication that he will step down. The regime has said it plans to organise a presidential election, in which Al-Assad would run, contradicting the provisions of the 2012 communiqué. The London 11 described the plan as “a parody of a ballot, aimed at maintaining in power a man whom the UN considers as having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity”. The statement added, “If it were to happen, we would consider it null and void.” Former international prosecutors said on Tuesday that they have images proving the regime has killed and tortured approximately 11,000 people.
Egypt’s overall position on Syria is for the pursuit of a political solution, having rejected the possibility of foreign military intervention in the conflict that has now seen more that 130,000 deaths and displaced almost 2.5 million people since it began in 2011.