Damascus “Open” to Khatib’s Dialogue Initiative

A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares to fire a B-10 recoilless gun in the Harasta neighborhood of Damascus on 7 February 2013. (Photo: Mohammed Abdullah - Reuters)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Friday, February 8, 2013

Damascus – By failing to respond to opposition coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s call for dialogue, many assumed Damascus was issuing an implicit rejection.

In remarks to Al-Akhbar, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil denied that the authorities were ignoring the initiative, saying it was Khatib who had ignored a previous government initiative.

“If [Khatib’s initiative] can concur with the government initiative – on not accepting external interference, for example – the Syrian state will be open to all possible initiatives for a solution without preconditions,” he said.

Jamil indicated that the Syrian government does not consider Khatib’s preconditions for dialogue unacceptable, noting that Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar responded to Khatib’s demand for the release of detainees by urging him to provide lists of the prisoners concerned. He said the government was generally in favor of acting to free all detainees who have not committed crimes.

The Syrian deputy premier suggested that it was not acceptable for Khatib to “determine the identity of the negotiator representing the regime in the dialogue,” namely Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. “It is not good to interfere in sovereign matters in this way.”

“What would Mr. Khatib say if the opposition Popular Front for Change and Freedom decided it didn’t agree to him and demanded he were replaced with Riad Seif, for example?”

Jamil said that the foreign-based opposition’s openness to dialogue – after having long rejected the idea – is a positive development.

He said the government had no objection to negotiating with anyone in the opposition “within the parameters of higher national principles, especially rejection of external interference.”

He added that “Moaz al-Khatib is only part of the opposition. He is being talked up abroad as representative of the whole opposition, but the Syrian opposition is made of diverse groups.”

Jamil charged that the Israeli air strike on the Jamraya scientific research site in January 2013 “was aimed at impeding a political settlement” in Syria. He argued that “the response to this raid should be to move faster towards a political settlement.”

Jamil also denied Lebanese press reports that he had visited the UAE to discuss the crisis. He said that his remarks to the press at the Beirut airport, while travelling to Moscow on a private visit via Dubai, had been misconstrued.

“This led to rumors spreading about a [UAE] role in resolving the Syrian crisis [as well as] the possibility that it might advance a political settlement, even though its name has not featured during the months of bloody events witnessed by the country,” he explained.

“This was amid other rumors about a possible role for UAE companies in rebuilding areas devastated by the systematic destruction the country has suffered.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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