Ongoing Syria talks in Geneva appeared to show some signs of movement on Wednesday, as opposition negotiators said the government had been pressured by Russia to address their demands for a political transition.
For seven days now, negotiations between government and opposition representatives in the Swiss city have focused almost entirely on format, in the hopes of arranging more substantive talks in later rounds.
But after a two-hour closed-door session at United Nations headquarters with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, lead opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri said they held “deep discussions for the first time”.
“The subject of political transition has become the main subject on the table,” he told reporters, calling it “a good start”.
The opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has repeatedly said its central goal in Geneva is to discuss “political transition” in Syria.
Government representatives have previously said that a political transition, which would ultimately see President Bashar al-Assad relinquish power, is not up for discussion. But a flurry of secretive diplomatic meetings over the past two days could have forced a change, according to the opposition.
“We heard from Mr de Mistura that – due to Russian pressure, and this is a sign that can be initially encouraging – there is acceptance to tackle the issues enshrined in (UN Security Council resolution) 2254, and most importantly to us political transition,” Hariri said.
Resolution 2254 lays the basis for discussions on a political transition, including a new constitution, UN-supervised elections and accountable governance.
Lead government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari arrived to the UN with a large delegation to meet with de Mistura shortly after Hariri spoke to the press, but left quietly and without giving a statement.
But such a political concession by the government, after major gains on the battlefield, has never been up for discussion, according to past comments by Jaafari, while some diplomats described the announcement as a to ploy to buy further time.