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Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 2:40:02 AM
Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 2:41:16 AM
by louis charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - If Syria goes ahead with an election that would likely secure a new term for President Bashar al-Assad, the opposition will probably not be interested in pursuing further peace talks with the government, peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Thursday.
Assad has not yet announced whether he will stand for a third term, in defiance of protesters, rebel fighters and Western foes who have demanded he go. But in state-controlled parts of Damascus, preparations for his candidacy are unmistakable.
"There is to my knowledge no official declaration yet in Damascus that this election is going to take place, but there are a lot of activities that seem to indicate that there is an election," Brahimi told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council.
"If there is an election, then my suspicion is that the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government," he said.
A Western diplomat inside Brahimi's closed-door briefing for the Security Council said Brahimi told its 15 member nations that he doubted another 7-year term for Assad would put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.
Two rounds of peace talks mediated by U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Brahimi in Geneva failed to bring the government and opposition any closer to agreement on a transitional government as called for in a declaration adopted at an international conference in the Swiss city in June 2012.
The Security Council president this month, Luxembourg's U.N. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, told reporters after the meeting that Brahimi's position was that holding an election at the present time would be "incompatible with the Geneva process."
Several senior Western diplomats told reporters that Brahimi said in private meetings this week that a re-election of Assad would signal a lack of seriousness on the government's part.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari did not confirm there would be a presidential vote soon, but said holding elections was a "sovereign domestic matter."
Another senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity that Syria's ally Russia was encouraging Assad to postpone the election until after a third round of negotiations in Geneva.
The Western diplomat inside the council meeting said Brahimi said "the country continues to be systematically destroyed."
Brahimi also told council members that the government and opposition delegations need to be better motivated for a new round of talks, if one takes place, the diplomat said.
The veteran Algerian diplomat has repeatedly threatened to quit, like his predecessor, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, did in 2012. Annan left out of frustration that Russia, the United States, Iran and others did not do enough to stop the civil war.
But council diplomats said he will be staying at the post for the time being. Council members voiced their support for Brahimi.
Ja'afari reiterated to reporters his government's position that the focus of the Geneva peace process should be on "combating terrorism." Assad's government generally refers as "terrorists" to all rebels, not just Islamist fighters who are among the most formidable forces it faces.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon appealed to Russia and the United States on Wednesday to help revive the Geneva peace talks and help end Syria's three-year-old civil war. He said it was time to put an end to the bloodshed that has torn Syria apart.
With the Syrian conflict entering a fourth year this week and more people fleeing the war, the United Nations has warned that Syrians are about to replace Afghans as the world's largest refugee population.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said more than 136,000 have been killed since a revolt against Assad began in March 2011.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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