The Syrian government will send a delegation to Geneva to take part in UN-sponsored indirect peace talks with the opposition but has rejected the UN envoy’s call for presidential elections to be held in the next 18 months.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters that the government team will head to Geneva on Sunday but will not stay more than 24 hours if the opposition does not show up. The talks are scheduled to begin Monday.
The last round of indirect talks collapsed on Feb. 3 over a Russian-backed government offensive in Aleppo. The new round of negotiations comes amid a two-week partial cease-fire that has mostly held.
The High Negotiations Committee, a Saudi-backed umbrella opposition group, said it will attend the talks and press for a transitional governing body with full executive powers in which President Bashar Assad and his associates would have no role. It also wants the restructuring of Syrian security forces.
The dispute over the fate of Assad has been the main obstacle in previous rounds of talks. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has called for presidential elections in the next 18 months, but al-Moallem dismissed the idea.
“Neither he nor anyone else has the right to talk about presidential elections. This is an exclusive right of the Syrian people,” the foreign minister said.
When asked about the opposition’s demands for a transitional body with full executive powers, al-Moallem said “if this is what they think, I advise them not to come to the negotiations so that they don’t make us tired and we don’t make them tired.”
Al-Moallem then turned to the head of the delegation, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, and said: “Bashar. This is a red line.”
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than four decades, was elected to a new seven-year term in 2014 in an election...