The chances of the Sochi-hosted Syria peace talks achieving a breakthrough in ending the country’s war dimmed further on Monday after France and Britain announced that they will not be part of the congress that kicks off in Russia on Tuesday.
The talks are already being boycotted by the Syrian opposition and the Kurds.
Paris and London will not be taking part in Sochi, saying the talks had to be part of a UN-led process and urging Moscow to get the Syrian regime to engage in meaningful negotiations.
Western powers and some Arab states believe the Sochi talks are an attempt by Russia to create a separate peace process that undermines the UN peace effort while laying the groundwork for a solution favorable to regime head Bashar al-Assad and allies Russia and Iran. The opposition has made similar accusations.
“All other initiatives, like the Sochi meeting organized by Russia, must support the UN process and be in that framework,” a French foreign ministry spokesman said in a daily briefing.
“We take note of the Syrian opposition’s decision not to go to Sochi. France will not participate in the work being carried out there,” the spokesman said.
Some 1,600 Syrian politicians, rebels and members of civil society will attend the negotiations in the Black Sea Resort. The aim of the Tuesday congress is to bring Syria closer to creating a post-war constitution, after two days of separate UN-backed talks in Vienna last week closed with the warring sides not even meeting face to face to discuss the groundwork for the document.
“UK will not participate in the Sochi conference. Despite Russia’s efforts the regime refuses to engage and has damaged confidence that Sochi can help the Geneva process,” Britain’s Syria envoy Martin Longden said on Twitter.
“We urge Russia to use its influence to persuade the regime to cease its destructive behavior.”
French officials said Russia only extended an invitation to attend on the sidelines of the Sochi conference and the foreign ministry declined to say whether any diplomats would attend. France’s Syria envoy is not due to go, a diplomatic source said.
“If the talks failed in Vienna it’s because the regime was not in the negotiations, it was there figuratively,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was quoted as saying by media during a trip to Japan.
“I think Sochi will not enable a breakthrough because an essential player will not be there due precisely to the regime’s refusal to negotiate in Vienna.”
The Kremlin has downplayed expectations of the event, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists Monday that "breakthroughs in the task of political regulation in Syria are hardly possible".