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Roadmap for peace Swiss want to ‘shake up’ international community over Syria

Syrian refugees arrive at the Jordan-Syria border at Al-Rugban on September 10 after fleeing Islamic State fighters and Syrian regime attacks

(Keystone)

Switzerland is keen to help inject a new political dynamic in the Syria peace process, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has declared.  A Swiss diplomat will lead a Syria working group that starts work in Geneva next month.

In an interview with the French-language Le Temps newspaper published on Thursday, Burkhalter said Switzerland wanted to “move the different fronts and shake up the international community…we have to believe in an agreement, in dialogue and a political solution.”

United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, confirmed on Tuesday that Swiss diplomat Nicolas Michel, a former UN legal counsel, would lead one of four working groups on Syria, which is starting work in Geneva next month. Michel will lead the group on political and legal issues.

Burkhalter said events were moving fast and the recent Iran nuclear deal had “totally changed the dynamics”.

“It has enabled a resumption of dialogue between the Russians and US. At the same time the advance of the Islamic State and the migration crisis have changed the perception of the conflict,” he said. “There is global consensus that we need to do something to end the Syrian conflict and this war between the Syrian regime and armed groups. Mediation must bring together all the principle actors.”

Burkhalter said the Swiss were in close contact with de Mistura and were helping to provide a “suitable working environment and logistics for meetings”.

Ukraine model

“We hope things start as quickly as possible. Switzerland is ready and the cabinet is pushing in that direction. I was in Sweden and Germany last week to talk about it,” said the foreign minister.

Burkhalter said the new UN initiative for Syria talks looked similar in approach to what had been done for Ukraine.

“The experience of the Ukraine dialogue carried out under the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) can be carried over into the Syrian example. It’s very striking. Except that with Ukraine there is a trilateral contact group (Ukraine, Russia and OSCE), while here there are many more actors.”

Asked whether Syrian President Bachar el-Assad should be included in discussions, Burkhalter said: “no solution for Syria is possible if we don't work with the widest possible group of people, including those in power.”

But he excluded members of the Islamic State group, present in Syria and Iraq.

Revive peace talks

Earlier this week de Mistura said in a statement that he had met with the heads of the four working groups aimed at reviving peace talks. He said the working groups could be a step toward a "Syrian-owned framework document" that would provide for a transitional governing body, procedures for national dialogue, a constitution drafting process and transitional justice issues.

The UN envoy said: “It is hoped that their outcomes could eventually set the stage for a Syrian agreement to end the conflict on the basis of the Geneva Communique 2012 roadmap agreed by world powers.”

De Mistura has moved away from the approach taken by his two predecessors, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, who both tried to bring two sides together to forge an agreement. Those talks, now known as Geneva 1 and Geneva 2, both failed to stop the war.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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