BEIRUT (AP) — The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said Saturday he will be inviting the Syrian opposition delegation to Geneva for the intra-Syrian talks beginning next week as his deputy held talks with Syrian officials in Damascus over the this month's negotiations.
Staffan de Mistura's statement came a day after the opposition named its unified delegation that includes internal and external groups to the Geneva talks which will start Tuesday. The 36-member delegation will be headed by Nasr al-Hariri, a cardiologist who took part in previous talks in Geneva over the past year.
The statement said de Mistura takes particular note that an opposition negotiating team has been announced and tasked to negotiate in Geneva without any preconditions, and that the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions is regarded as the sole reference for the negotiation.
The opposition ended Friday a three-day meeting in Saudi Arabia in which its representatives called for direct and unconditional negotiations with the Syrian government over the more than 6-year civil war that would lead to the launch of a transition period.
The opposition refrained from saying their participation in the upcoming U.N.-based negotiations would be conditional upon the departure of President Bashar Assad from office, signaling a degree of flexibility. The issue has always been the sticking point in previous rounds of talks, deepening division among an already fragmented opposition.
Speaking in the Saudi capital of Riyadh late Friday, al-Hariri said "the direct talks are to achieve a specific goal which is political transition." He added that all topics were up for discussion, an apparent reference to Assad's future.
The Syrian government delegation had said in the past that the fate of Assad is not up for negotiation, vowing not to give the opposition through peace talks what they failed to achieve through war.
In Damascus, de Mistura's deputy, Ramzy Ramzy, held talks with the country's deputy foreign minister and Syria's chief negotiator. There was no immediate word about the government's delegation to the talks.
Ramzy told reporters after his meeting with Faisal Mekdad that the Geneva talks will be over four main topics — a new constitution, governance, elections and combating terrorism. He added that the focus will be mostly on the constitution and elections, without elaborating.
Asked if he expects a breakthrough in the Geneva talks, Ramzy said "The political process is difficult and complicated because the situation in Syria is complicated, so we are building our strategy one step at a time."
"I hope that the next round with effective participation of the government and the presence of a united opposition team will help in pushing the matter forward," added Ramzy.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.