Syrian parties prepare for peace talks with federalism on agenda

Syria’s warring parties are gearing up to resume peace talks this week, with a federal division of the Arab country likely on the table as the opposition confirms its participation. 

The Saudi-backed opposition coalition, called the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said on Friday it will attend the second round of the UN-brokered indirect peace talks due on March 14 in Geneva.

The HNC said it would focus on setting up a “transitional governance body with full executive powers,” reiterating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “will have no place” in a future Syrian administration.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, announced a halt to the first round of discussions on February 3 after the opposition refused to continue the talks.

An unidentified UN Security Council diplomat said on Friday that some major powers, including the US and Russia, have been considering the possibility of a federal structure for Syria, and have informed de Mistura of the idea.

According to the unnamed diplomats, cited by Reuters, the federal division of Syria would maintain its unity as a single state while granting broad autonomy to regional authorities.

In an interview with the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera broadcaster on Thursday, de Mistura said federalism is on the table for the upcoming Syria negotiations.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, attends a news briefing after a meeting of the Task Force for Humanitarian Access at the UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland, March 9, 2016. ©Reuters

“All Syrians have rejected the division [of Syria] and federalism can be discussed at the negotiations,” he said.

In late February, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that a federal state may be a suitable government model to preserve Syria’s unity and sovereignty.

“If as a result of talks, consultations and discussions on Syria’s future state order, the (warring) sides … come to an opinion that namely this [federal] model will work to serve the task of preserving Syria as a united, secular, independent and sovereign nation, then who will object to this?” he asked.

HNC has, however, said it would not accept federalism, adding, “We have agreed we will expand non-central government in a future Syria, but not any kind of federalism or division.”

On Friday, the UN envoy called for elections in Syria as part of a resolution unanimously adopted by the Security Council last December.

The resolution urges the formation of a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian” government within six months as well as UN-supervised “free and fair elections” within 18 months.

The Syria peace talks will take place amid a cessation of hostilities agreement in the conflict-ridden country, which has stood since February 27.

The foreign-sponsored crisis in Syria, which flared in March 2011, has so far claimed the lives of over 470,000, according to some reports.

By Press TV