Russia on Saturday slammed as unrepresentative the talks held this week in Saudi Arabia among Syrian political and armed opposition groups which culminated with a call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
“We cannot agree with an attempt made by the group that gathered in Riyadh to monopolise the right to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition,” said the foreign ministry in Moscow, which supports Assad.
Gathered in the Saudi capital for the first major talks among various political and armed factions, representatives on Thursday agreed a framework for negotiations sought by world powers.
But the opposition groups insisted that Assad and his aides quit power “with the start of the transition period” set out by world powers in Vienna last month.
The United States welcomed the Riyadh accord but warned that some problems remain to be resolved between the opposition forces if UN-backed peace talks are to resume next week.
Russia had said it would confirm whether next week’s planned meeting of the 17 nations of the International Syrian Support Group could go ahead after the rebel talks.
But on Saturday Moscow did not say whether the meeting would be held and instead took issue with the Riyadh talks, saying the opposition groups had continued to insist on a “number of preconditions.”
Moscow also said the talks did not include members of the so-called “patriotic Syrian opposition” seen as friendly towards Assad.
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party did not attend the talks either, the foreign ministry said. “The organisers did not send them an invitation having faced opposition from Turkey,” it said in a statement.
– ‘Terrorists should be excluded’ –
By contrast, Moscow said the negotiations were attended by controversial groups such as the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel force, which includes hardline Islamists and the Ahrar al-Sham force, one of Syria’s most important rebel groups, which Moscow accused of shooting at its embassy in Damascus.
“We are still convinced that terrorists of all stripes should be excluded from the political process in Syria,” the foreign ministry said, adding it was up to UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura to bring together various representatives of the opposition.
Moscow said it was ready to continue work within the framework of the International Syrian Support Group but stressed political transition in the war-torn country should begin without preconditions.
“All members of the International Syrian Support Group signed up to the key principle: only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Syria,” the foreign ministry said.
“Agreements should be respected.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow on Tuesday to try to keep the fragile Syrian peace process on track.