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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Raqqa Offensive Brings Syrian Talks in Geneva to 'Deadlock'

Sputnik News

11:09 31.05.2016(updated 11:20 31.05.2016)

After Syrian Kurds backed by the US and Russia launched an assault on Raqqa, the capital of the Daesh "caliphate" the Geneva peace talks have become at risk of disruption. However, Moscow and Washington are interested in the continuation of the negotiations.

On Monday, chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, Mohammed Alloush said in an interview with Al Arabiya that the Syrian negotiations in Geneva had reached a stalemate.

He condemned the international community and the Syrian government for the failure of the talks.

According to Alloush, the Syrian opposition he represents will not join a national unity government if it includes Syrian leader Bashar Assad or his supporters.

Alloush is also a member of Jaysh al-Islam, one of the most powerful factions within the Syrian opposition. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly opposed the participation of Jaysh al-Islam members in the negotiations.

The group has been accused of attacking the Syrian Army and government facilities as well as of using terrorist tactics. The group has been part of the so-called pro-Western Syrian opposition, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

At first glance, Alloush's departure could be viewed as a positive development for Russia. However, at the moment Moscow is not interested in his resignation, former Russian diplomat Veniamin Popov said.

According to him, Alloush is an infamous person, and this is why his resignation is a positive step. At the same time, it disrupts the course of the peace talks.

"Both Moscow and Washington are interested in the continuation of the negotiations," Popov told Gazeta.ru.

The crisis in the Syrian peace talks began five days after the large-scale offensive on Raqqa, the de-facto capital of Daesh, was launched.

The operation has involved over 20,000 militants of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF). Over 50 percent of the forces are Kurds, backed by the US. They are coordinating their actions with the US military.

Russia also offered Washington to coordinate efforts in this campaign, but the Pentagon rejected the offer. However, Russia has the right to carry out unilateral airstrikes on Raqqa.

Earlier, spokesperson of the Kurdish Democratic Union forces Ibrahim Ibrahim said that the forces are coordinating actions with both Moscow and Washington.

The composition of the forces storming Raqqa has angered Turkey. Formally, Ankara is party to the Western anti-Daesh coalition, but it is pursuing own interests in Syria. Turkey sees the Kurdish militia forces as one of the most serious threats to its security.

The actual goal of the Syrian Kurds is to establish an autonomous state in northern Syria. This would also provoke a surge of separatism in southern Turkey that is mainly populated by Kurds.

Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a crackdown on separatists in southern Turkey. Ankara considers local Kurdish forces terrorists. Moreover, Turkish forces have been shelling Kurds across the Syrian border.

Jaysh al-Islam is a part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of a number of Syrian opposition armed groups. It was established in November 2013 in coordination with Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The threat of a collapse of the pro-Western delegation in Geneva looks like a signal to the US supporting the Kurdish offensive on Raqqa.

"Indeed, combat actions in Syria have had significant impact on the peace talks. However, there are still a lot of possibilities in Geneva for all parties involved to agree their positions. They just need patience," Popov said.

A source close to the negotiations told Gazeta.ru that in fact Moscow is not interested in the withdrawal of Jaysh al-Islam from the talks.

Jaysh al-Islam is one of the largest and most powerful factions. If it withdraws from the peaceful process the talks on the future of Syria would make no sense, the source said.

Further actions of the Syrian opposition are unclear. Jaysh al-Islam has not commented on Alloush's resignation. Nevertheless, on May 30, Assad al Zoubi, head of High Negotiations Committee delegation, said he also may resign.

He said that he would resign if Jaysh al-Islam members left Geneva. On Monday it was also reported that the High Negotiations Committee was continuing talks on Alloush's resignation and its consequences.

"Personal ambitions of opposition leaders are an important part of the process. Now they are bargaining, but this is unlikely to break the deadlock," the source added.

The Geneva peaceful process is now in a real crisis, Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said.

"The talks are on the verge of disruption. All parties understand that they've reached a deadlock," he told Gazeta.ru.

According to Barnes-Dacey, the withdrawal of Jaysh al-Islam would result in the entire Islamic Front leaving Geneva. This, in turn, would paralyze the diplomatic process and provoke a new surge of violence in Syria.

"Currently, there are two scenarios of further developments," Elena Suponina, adviser at the Russian institute for Strategic Assessments, said.

"The first: the pro-Western delegation leaves Geneva and a new stage of the Syrian crisis begins. The second: the US pressures the delegation to continue the talks. In this scenario, the negotiations would not be productive until a way is found to break the course of the talks," she explained.

Currently, the talks in Geneva are not in an active phase. Negotiators are preparing for the next round which is expected to start after Ramadan. According to experts, by this time the diplomatic process as well as combat actions in Syria would intensify.


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