Damascus Rejects Any Discussion of Presidency at Talks

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Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Al Moualem confirmed the government's attendance at the next U.N.-led peace talks, but said that the delegation would reject any attempt to include presidential elections on the agenda. March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

BEIRUT, March 12 – The Syrian government said on Saturday it would not discuss presidential elections at peace talks or hold talks with any party wishing to discuss the question of the presidency, as it confirmed its participation in U.N.-led peace talks next week.

“We will not talk to anyone who talks about the position of the presidency,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said during a televised news conference in Damascus. “I advise them that if this is their thinking, they shouldn’t come to the talks.”

“They must abandon these delusions.”

 

Moualem said the government delegation would travel to Geneva on Sunday but would return to Damascus within 24 hours if the other side did not show up.

The Syrian government’s understanding of “political transition” was from the existing constitution to a new one, and from the existing government to a new one with participation from the other side, he said.

The Syrian opposition wants the talks to focus on the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, and has rejected the idea of joining an expanded Syrian government.

In response to Moualem’s comments, the main opposition council accused Damascus of halting the talks before they had started.

“I believe he is putting the nails in the coffin of Geneva, this is clear,” Monzer Makhous, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told Al Arabiya Al Hadath TV.

“Moualem is stopping Geneva before it starts.”

The foreign minister also said the government was committed to a “cessation of hostilities” agreement brokered by the United States and Russia that has reduced the violence in western Syria since it came into effect two weeks ago.

He criticised U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, saying neither he or anyone else had the right to talk about presidential elections in Syria and demanding “neutrality and objectivity” on his part. He also rejected the idea of a federal solution to the war.

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