More than 250,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's brutal conflict in 2011
More than 250,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's brutal conflict in 2011 © Mohammed Eyad - AFP/File
More than 250,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's brutal conflict in 2011
Last updated: November 12, 2015

West dismisses Russian proposals for Syria

A Russian plan for political reform in Syria will not be a focal point of upcoming Vienna talks aimed at agreeing on a roadmap to end the four-year war, Britain's UN envoy said Wednesday.

Russia circulated the eight-point plan that calls for elections after an 18-month constitutional reform process, following the last round of international talks in Vienna on October 30.

"We are aware of the Russian proposals," British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.

"The eight-point plan itself is not central to the discussions in Vienna but Russia is," said Rycroft.

Around 20 countries and international bodies will meet in Vienna on Saturday to try to agree on a peace plan that would include a ceasefire between Bashar al-Assad's regime and some opposition groups.

Other Western diplomats dismissed the plan presented nearly two weeks ago as a non-starter because it does not clarify Assad's fate.

The United States and its European and Arab allies are demanding that Assad be forced to give up power at some point in the transition, but Iran and Russia disagree.

One Security Council diplomat described the Russian reform proposal as "back-of-the-envelope stuff" and said it was "not the answer."

The plan was contained in a document entitled "approach to the settlement of the Syrian crisis" that called for setting up a constitutional commission made up of members of "domestic and outside opposition" groups.

The document specifies that "the president of Syria will not chair the constitutional commission" with the choice to be agreed by the commission's members.

Under the proposal, parliamentary and presidential elections would be held simultaneously after the constitution is approved in a referendum.

But the document does not specify that Assad would not be allowed to stand in those elections.

- Not enough -

"That just isn't enough," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified.

"There has to be greater clarity than that, greater certainty," he said.

"It has to be part of the final deal that the end point will not have Assad in power."

Diplomats said Saudi Arabia in particular was taking a tough line and insisting on a clear commitment from arch-foe Iran, and also Russia, on ensuring that Assad exits the political scene.

A Russian diplomat said the document was more "a vision than a plan" and emphasized that discussions on the way forward in Syria were ongoing.

At a closed-door Security Council meeting on Tuesday, the Russian ideas were not discussed, but envoy Staffan de Mistura held out hope that a ceasefire could be agreed at the Vienna talks on Saturday.

De Mistura quoted a letter he received this week from Syria pledging to stop the use of "arbitrary weapons" as a sign that there could be a pause in fighting, diplomats said.

The envoy is hoping that a ceasefire will resolve a dispute over which groups fighting in Syria are considered "terrorists" and which ones are part of the opposition.

Those who respect the ceasefire would stand a better chance of gaining recognition as an opposition group with a seat at the table for peace talks, diplomats said.

The Vienna talks mark the most significant international effort to date to end the war that has left 250,000 people dead and triggered Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

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