By Shreerupa Mitra-Jha
The Syrian government on Wednesday dismissed the possibility that the Syrian Kurds will declare a federal region in northern Syria saying that creating any kind of divisions among the Syrians will be “a total failure”.
“The basic references for the indirect talks prohibits raising such scenarios [of discussing the possibility of a breakup of Syria]. What we are talking about here is how to keep the unity of Syria, how to respect the unity of Syria, the independence of Syria, the territorial integrity of Syria, the unity of Syria [in terms of the] land and people,” Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s current ambassador to the UN in New York and the Syrian government’s chief negotiator, told reporters in Geneva.
“The Syrian Kurds are an important component of the Syrian people. We are proud of them, they are proud of us. We have established our state together for centuries. So betting on creating any kind of divisions among the Syrians will be a total failure,” Jaafari added.
A spokesperson for the Democratic Union Party — a powerful Syrian Kurdish political party — had earlier today told The Associated Press that they planned to declare a separate, federal region for the Kurds.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an address on Wednesday also dismissed the idea of Kurdish self-rule in Turkey, though Turkey and the Syrian government are at the opposite ends of the table in this conflict. Erdogan further said that Russian and US weapons are landing with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation. To complicate matters, though the US shares common interests with Turkey in toppling the Assad regime, it considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — which Ankara considers an affiliate of PKK — an ally given their proficiency to counter the Islamic State.
Jaafari further said that the discussions on Friday with the UN deputy special envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, was on the format of the talks and not the substance.
The ambassador said that they “examined the format” of the talks to ensure the participation of the broadest spectrum of Syrians in accordance with UNSC resolution 2254.
The UN is holding “proximity talks”— indirect negotiations where UN talks separately to the Syrian government, the different opposition groups and other parties— that began on Monday in Geneva. The Saudi- and Western-backed opposition group called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is the opposition’s main negotiating group, led by Mohammed Alloush, apart from other opposition groups.
Apart from the Syrian government and the HNC, the UN has sent invitations to the Moscow and the Cairo groups and women and civil society delegations.
“Some delegations have not yet arrived,” Jaafari said.
Though Jaafari did not name Alloush — whom the Syrian government considers a terrorist — he said that the government delegation would not take part in direct talks with him “unless that personality apologises for the statement he made previously and withdraws it,” without elaborating any further. Alloush, considered to be a hardliner, had insisted that the political transition in Syria must start with president Bashar al-Assad's fall or death.
This is the first real “temporary” ceasefire in Syria — declared on 27 February — after the civil war completed five years this month. Though there have been accusations of violations, the ceasefire has largely been held.
“The process as we see it at this stage is progressing. It probably reflects the situation on the ground – that there has been to quite a large extent reduction in violence. So by and large, we see that we have achieved important progress in just a few days,” Ramzy told reporters on Wednesday.
Bolstering the hopes for a political solution for the disastrous war that has killed at least 270,000 people and displaced millions, Russia declared two days back that it would be withdrawing their troops from Syria.
The Syrian government on Wednesday said that this withdrawal was a “common decision” and did not come as a surprise to the government.
“It was a coordinated, joint, political decision taken by both Moscow and Damascus jointly. Our friends, and allies, the Russians, came to Syria by a joint decision, and the day they will leave or withdraw, or redeploy their forces, partially or totally, it will be done, again and again and again, through a joint Syria-Russia coordination action,” said Jaafari.
“We did enter substantive decisions today as we asked Dr Jaafari and his team about clarifications on the paper submitted by the government of Syria. So substantive discussions have started,” Ramzy said commenting on Jaafari’s comment that the discussion today was on form not on substance.
The Syrian government has submitted an eight-point paper to the UN on the possible political solution to the war in Syria.
“We can have different interpretations on discussions on form and discussions on substance,” he added.
Commenting on the possibility of a federal region for the Syrian Kurds, Ramzy said, “The UN has a clear position on this as does the Security Council…The future form Syria will take will be decided by the Syrians themselves”.
The writer is a journalist at the United Nations