An exchange of words between Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (shown on right in photo) created a tense start to the Geneva II Conference on Syria (a UN-backed conference called to negotiate a settlement to the three-year-long Syrian civil war) which started on January 22 in the Swiss lakeside city of Montreux.
Muallem first argued with Ban — who is chairing the conference — about the length of his speech and then asserted that only the Syrian people could decide on President Assad’s future.
Speaking in a room separate from Muallem, Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba charged that the human rights violations in Syria were reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and said that Assad’s departure should be a precondition for peace.
BBC News reported that Muallem and Jarba won’t be in the negotiating room together until Friday, when the talks resume in Geneva. Wednesday’s preliminary meeting consisted of speeches delivered by about 40 foreign ministers. Friday’s meetings will involve direct negotiations between the involved parties.
Friday’s conference will be the first face-to-face meeting between the Syrian government and the main opposition — The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — since the civil war began in 2011.
Following the tense first day of sometimes impassioned speeches, Ban spoke at an evening news conference that BBC described as “fractious.” Ban, referring to the turmoil and suffering in Syria, said: “Enough is enough. The time has come to negotiate,” and noted that “the really hard work begins on Friday.” Ban continued: “We have a difficult road ahead, but it can be done and it must be done.”
British-based Sky News reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, after having discussions with Muallem and Jarba, urged that the talks not be focused on leadership change in Syria. “As for guarantees that the talks will not collapse — it is necessary to influence both delegations so that this does not happen,” said Lavrov, adding, “The main thing is to start the process.”
The “leadership change” that Lavrov referred to is a key plank of the "Geneva Communiqué," a document issued by a UN-backed meeting on June 30, 2012.
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Photo of Ban Ki-moon: AP Images