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Opposition negotiator reveals Astana talks, detainees fate- Interview

(Zaman Al Wasl)- Head of the opposition's Astana delegation, expected that the next round of consultations will achieve progress on the issue of detainees hinting at the Russian seriousness about this issue. 

In an interview with Zaman al-Wasl, Dr. Ahmed Tu'mah said that Iranians are the most obstructive regarding the detainees file. He noted that noting that they are drowning the negotiations in details to evade dealing with this issue.

Tu'mah called on human rights organizations to do more on the detainees file, that the regime claims that there are not defined lists of detainees. In the following, we present the details of the interview.

- What is your feedback on the 8th round of Astana?

The most important positive remarks on the 8th round of the Astana consultations is that there are now specific topics on the table being discussed, especially the issue of detainees and ensuring their release. In this round there was extensive work on the issue of releasing the detainees, so when there was a consensus about my presidency of the Astana delegation, I began to study the files, and I found that the most important file where pressure can be applied is the detainee file.

We have spoken extensively and in a focused manner with the Russian and American sides and even with the United Nations about the need to make progress on this file. We had sessions with these delegations. Of course, the Turkish side strongly supports us in this file.

- Did you feel the Russians are serious about the issue of detainees?

I expect that Russia wants to make progress in this file, and it wants to push the Iranians specifically to be flexible about this issue, especially since this issue can push the political process in Syria.

- Have you talked to the Russian side about the details?

Yes, of course, we told them that if you want to move forward with the political process, something must be presented and this is either releasing the detainees, lifting the siege on the besieged areas or increasing the areas of de-escalation.

- What is the issue of the next round?

In the next round, we have the opportunity to put more pressure about the issue of detainees although we did this in the previous round as well and adopting the formation of the working group on the issue detainees.

- What is the Iranian position on the issue of detainees?

The Iranians have been evading deciding the mechanism of for releasing the detainees for several months. Since May, for the first time, a mechanism was put forward for the release of the detainees under the observation of the United Nations to achieve the release of the detainees. Since then, the Iranians have been obstructing it [the mechanism] by various means. One of these means is to sink the other parties in details of other topics, for example, entering into the details about the de-escalation areas to waste time.

Do you expect the detainees to be released?

I expect that, and we hope that we will achieve this in the next round. What has been reached is adopting a special working group on the subject of detainees. It is considered a positive point as the regime will not be able to evade this issue. Next time we will enter into details such as the lists of detainees and the mechanisms to release them, the involvement of the Red Cross in this issue and it is in our interest to involve them [Red Cross] so that the organization can enter prisons of both sides and enter the prisons and security branches.

- Do you have full details about all detainees?
The Syrian human rights organizations have all these details, and in turn, we have lists.

- How many detainees are there according to your data?

I do not have a specific number and this is a dilemma as some organizations that have accurate figures do not give them promptly or according to particular conditions.

- The subject of detainees is a humanitarian issue that concerns all Syrians. What is 
required of the organizations?

Cooperation among all human rights organizations to develop standardized and detailed lists. One of the arguments we face is that the lists submitted are not detailed, and some organizations fear that the regime will execute the prisoners.

- Do you expect to that Sochi will be held according to Russian wishes?

Russia is in dire need of the approval of many international and regional parties, and here is another question: Are the Russians holding the conference alone without consensus with Turkey, the United Nations and some regional countries, other than the United States. It is correct the United States of America has no desire to impose everything it wants, but at the same time, they can easily sabotage what they do not agree with.

- Have the invitations been sent out?

No invitation has been made so far, but some people have been invited, but informally, where they were asked if they were ready to go and they agreed and considered this scene an official invitation to the conference.

- What is the role of the political leaders in the administration of Deir Ez Zor after the demise of the Islamic State?

This is one of the points that we had much hope in and in Astana we spoke about increasing the number of de-escalation areas and adding Deir Ez Zor and al-Raqqah, but this did not receive any response from the Russians.

In my view, local leaders do not have the opportunity to work in these areas because there are areas under the control of the regime, and under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces. So local councils cannot be organized that will be independent and particular to the people of the city as they cannot reach it. 

- The debate today is about the survival of al-Assad. Do you think there is a chance of him remaining? 

Al-Assad will not remain in power, and there will be no political transition in his presence.

- Some say you are inclined to al-Assad remaining in the transitional phase?

I did not make any statement of this kind. The solution in Syria will not be the presence of al-Assad because -to put it briefly- he is the origin of the Syrian problem.

Zaman A Wasl
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