Syria diplomacy: Steinmeier meets opposition leader Syrian Arab Republic

03.11.2016 - Article

Foreign Minister Steinmeier received the Syrian opposition leader, Riyad Hijab, today (3 November). Central questions were how to reduce violence in Syria and improve the humanitarian situation.

Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier met the General Coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian opposition, Riyad Hijab, for talks in the Federal Foreign Office on Thursday (3 November). The talks focused on how to reduce the violence in Syria and improve the humanitarian situation. According to Steinmeier, Moscow bears “the greatest responsibility”.

Situation in Aleppo remains dramatic

The fighting over Aleppo continues (31 October 2016).
The fighting over Aleppo continues (31 October 2016).© dpa/picture-alliance

The situation in the Syrian civil war remains devastating. The city of Aleppo remains at the epicentre of the fighting. To break the siege, the armed opposition recently launched an offensive. Russia and the Syrian regime suspended air attacks on Aleppo with effect from 18 October. Now there is also to be a ceasefire on the ground from Friday (4 November). The Russian military announced a ten‑hour ceasefire for the beleaguered city in northern Syria. According to United Nations estimates, up to 300,000 are trapped in the eastern part of the city.

Despite the suspension of air attacks on Aleppo, the fighting goes on

Steinmeier received the Syrian opposition leader Riyad Hijab in the Federal Foreign Office.
Steinmeier received the Syrian opposition leader Riyad Hijab in the Federal Foreign Office.© AA

After his talks with the Coordinator of the High Committee of the Syrian opposition, Riyad Hijab, Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following statement on recent developments: “The fact that there have been no further air strikes on eastern Aleppo, which has been under siege for months, provides at least some relief to the people living there in the greatest deprivation and danger”.

At the same time, the Minister went on, we see that a few kilometres away, the suburbs, outskirts and surroundings of Aleppo are still being bombed. The same applies for other parts of Syria from which “we are still hearing the most harrowing reports on the barbaric actions of the regime and its supporters”, and as the Minister continued, “reports of schools being shot at, pupils dying ... and the use of chemical weapons”.

Ten‑hour ceasefire nowhere nearly enough – urgently need new impetus for talks

Looking to the ten‑hour ceasefire announced by Moscow for Friday, the German Foreign Minister emphasised:

This is nowhere nearly enough. It does not provide enough time to evacuate sick and seriously wounded people or to deliver the necessary humanitarian supplies for the residents of Aleppo.

For Steinmeier, this makes it all the more urgent that we have new impetus for talks between Moscow and Washington, but also with the regional players. In turn, he underscored that the imminent handover of power in the US administration following the election on 8 November must not be allowed to lead to a power vacuum.

All parties to the conflict have a responsibility

Syrian opposition leader Hijab was also in Germany for talks in May 2016.
Syrian opposition leader Hijab was also in Germany for talks in May 2016.© Florian Gärtner/photothek.de

What is important now, according to the Minister, is that all parties to the conflict take on their responsibility for alleviating the suffering of the people in Aleppo and in Syria. A ceasefire is, for him, the first step on this path. It is just as important that there be “a clear distancing on the part of the opposition fighters” from the al‑Nursra Front. For Steinmeier, it is a duty of the international community to improve the humanitarian situation and work towards a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. As a main supporter of the Syrian regime, the Minister considers Russia to bear the greatest responsibility. At the same time, Steinmeier underscored that “all those involved, especially those whose voices carry particular weight in the region, are called on to help put a stop to the suffering of the people”.

Important for the opposition to remain united

After his meeting with the coordinator of the Syrian opposition, Steinmeier highlighted that it is crucial for the moderate Syrian opposition to stay united given the difficult situation. “In my talks with Riyad Hijab, I expressed my recognition for his great commitment to ensuring that the opposition remains united.”

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