A delegation of the oppositional Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) arrived in Moscow on October 26 for talks with top Russian diplomats on a number of issues, including:
intensifying efforts to form a constitutional committee, which should draft a new constitution for Syria,
continuing the inter-Syrian dialogue to advance the process of political settlement of the Syrian crisis based on UNSC Resolution 2254,
restoring the Syrian socio-economic infrastructure destroyed during the war,
creating conditions for the return of internally displaced persons to their homes and the repatriation of Syrian refugees from abroad,
the situation in the Idlib area, where the main forces of armed groups (more than 20) are concentrated, which was declared a de-escalation zone;
separation of the opposition from the terrorists of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) was established after the formation of a single delegation of the Syrian opposition for talks in Geneva, the bulk of which is represented by the Saudi-supported so-called Riyadh opposition group.
The delegation also included representatives of the Western-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) with a group of Kurdish oppositionists and several representatives of the patriotic opposition ready for a constructive dialogue with the Syrian government (Moscow group). The delegation was headed by HNC chairman Nasr al-Hariri, opposition leader from NCSROF. Before the Syrian crisis in 2011 he was a deputy of the local National Assembly in the city of Deraa, the birthplace of Syria uprising. At the press conference in Moscow Nasr al-Hariri confirmed the need for a political process to resolve the Syrian crisis, but he repeated accusations against the Syrian leadership, saying that President Assad “destroyed Syria and is guilty of the deaths of thousands of Syrians and has no right to lead the country.” He also accused Iran, which allegedly “imposes its sectarian regime on the Syrians.” However, he could not intelligibly answer the question about thousands of foreign mercenaries operating in opposition groups in Syria. Nasr al-Hariri also acknowledged that there is no unity in the HNC, and not all of its members share his position. He also criticized Russia for the continued support of the Syrian leadership, but recognized the important role of Russia in Syria and called on the Russian side to reconsider its position.
It should be noted that the HNC does not have broad support in Syrian society and operates largely thanks to of the sponsorship of external actors and in their interests. However, at the negotiations in Geneva the HNC is perceived as the main representative of the Syrian opposition. It also appears that the main purpose of the HNC at the talks in Moscow was to convince the Russians of its representativeness and the possibility of becoming an alternative force capable to act in the interests of Russia. However, such a scenario is hardly possible, as all previous negotiations with representatives of the Syrian opposition have shown. Anyway, such negotiations are necessary to revitalize the drafting of a new Syrian constitution or to amend the current constitution and thus to advance a political settlement, as well as to resolve specific refugee issues, restore the socio-economic structure and solve humanitarian problems.
At the same time, the summit of leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France was held in Istanbul on the situation in Syria. During the summit, all its participants confirmed that the political settlement of the Syrian crisis has no alternative, the need for the earliest development of a new Syrian constitution and the formation of a constitutional committee, which should start its work in late 2018, and also to provide opportunities for the return of Syrian refugees to the country. Along with this, Turkish President Erdogan confirmed that Turkish troops in Syria will continue operations on the eastern bank of the Euphrates against the Kurdish armed groups, which Turkey qualifies as terrorist organizations. However, the Turkish president called on Western countries to assist in restoring the economy of Syria.
The leaders of France and Germany, while reaffirming their commitment to a political settlement of the Syrian conflict, nevertheless stated that the leadership of Bashar al-Assad did not represent the entire Syrian people and that many Syrians became refugees, allegedly “because of the persecutions of the Syrian regime.” In turn, the Russian president pointed to the need to comply with agreements between Russia and Turkey on the de-escalation zone in Idlib, which Turkey first must comply with, and confirmed that in case of continued armed provocations by opposition groups, Russia reserves the right to support the actions of the Syrian army against terrorists. At the same time, the Russian president said that the agreements on Idlib are temporary and also suggested expanding the format of summits with the involvement of Iran and possible merging of this format with the Astana process. The summit was an important step towards resolution of the Syrian crisis. It is necessary to note the common position of its participants on the key issue – the need for a political settlement. At the same time, the European leaders, as well as the Turkish president, no longer used the “Assad must leave” rhetoric. This summit can be defined as the next stage of the Syrian conflict settlement, where there are still a number of problems.