ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Russia has agreed that two Syrian rebel Islamist groups will participate in Syria peace talks on an individual basis but said this did not mean that they were legitimate and not terrorists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
The United Nations on Monday announced the formal start of peace talks in Geneva. Moscow, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally, had objected to the Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham groups taking any part in the talks.
But on Tuesday Lavrov, speaking through an interpreter, told a news conference in Abu Dhabi it had been agreed the two groups would attend on an individual basis.
“This does not mean that this is an acknowledgement of Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as two legitimate partners in the negotiations,” he said.
“This is our stance and this is the stance of so many parties in the support group and they consider these groups terrorist groups,” he said.
A representative of Jaish al-Islam, Mohamed Alloush, is already in Geneva for the talks. He said on Tuesday he was not optimistic about their prospects.
Lavrov said only Syrians could decide the future of their country through the framework of the Geneva negotiations, which Russia fully backed.
“We will offer all our support to this process,” he said after meeting his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Lavrov said some parties were trying to force the transfer of authority in Syria, which has been at war for nearly five years.
He also called for the implementation of U.N. resolutions to remedy the humanitarian situation in Syria and called on U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura to “treat all parties in a balanced way”. The stance of the Syrian government had been constructive, he said.
Reporting by Noah Browning, Writing by Sylvia Westall, Editing by Sami Aboudi and Angus MacSwan