Syria’s government and opposition have met for the first time at a UN peace conference in Montreux on Lake Geneva, with the United States and Russia as co-sponsors, but the conference quickly displayed divergence.
US secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had lost all legitimacy:
“We really need to deal with reality. Mutual consent – which is what has brought us here – for a transition government means that that government can not be formed with someone who is objected to by one side or another. That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way, no way possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.”
Syrian opposition leader Ahmed al-Jarba said: “We want to know if we have a Syrian partner in this room who is ready to change from being an Assad delegation to a free delegation, like us. I ask them to immediately sign the Geneva 1 agreement in the presence of all of you now, so we can transfer Assad’s powers, including executive powers over security, the army and intelligence, to a transitional government which will be the first building block of the new Syria.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for immediate access for humanitarian aid convoys to areas under siege. He said that after nearly three years of conflict in Syria, now a fragile but real hope has appeared.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said: “Independent Syria will do whatever it takes to defend itself in ways that it deems appropriate, without taking into consideration all the statements and the stands that have been made by many. These decisions are entirely Syrian decisions and they will remain so. If you are truly concerned about the humanitarian situation and the living conditions in Syria, take your hands off us, stop pouring arms into Syria and stop supporting the terrorists.”
Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “Attempts from the outside to impose any models of reform on the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, any experiments in social engineering, will turn back the clock on progress made and will hamper the process of political and economic modernisation, and we don’t have to look far for examples. Once again, I call upon all external players to strictly abide by the basic principles of International Law to respect sovereignty.”
Many of the more than 40 government representatives echoed concerns about the human cost of the war and the dangers of escalation.