Syrian conflict

Spain to join group of nations negotiating peace in Syria

Russia invites Spanish government to be part of the International Syria Support Group

A man rides a motorbike in Duma, on the outskirts of Damascus.
A man rides a motorbike in Duma, on the outskirts of Damascus.EFE

Spain will join the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) – a US and Russia-led alliance that is seeking a solution to the five-year-old civil war raging in the Arab country.

The invitation to join the body, created in October 2015 in Vienna, was extended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who wrote a letter to his Spanish counterpart, acting minister José Manuel García-Margallo.

By joining the global alliance, Spain will get to play a bigger role in the resolution of a conflict that is having a major impact on Europe

“In consideration of the serious efforts that Spain and you personally are applying towards a political solution to the crisis in Syria, as well as the role and influence of your country in the Middle East and the Maghreb, and your traditional contacts with personalities of Syrian political life, I have the honor, as co-chairman of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), of inviting Spain to participate in its work,” begins the letter.

By joining Germany, Italy, France, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Russia, United States, the UN and the EU in their global alliance, Spain will get to play a bigger role in the resolution of a conflict that is having a major impact on Europe.

Also joining the group are the Netherlands, Australia and Japan.

García-Margallo had petitioned for membership before US State Secretary John Kerry and two other officials, but the request required approval from other ISSG members, including some which were reticent to a new expansion.

Spain’s position in favor of letting the Syrian regime participate in peace talks, rather than demanding Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation as some Western and Arab countries were doing, helped get its membership request approved.

Diplomatic sources said Spain could now become a privileged mediator.

The Spanish foreign minister had petitioned for membership before US State Secretary John Kerry

The Syrian president himself told EL PAÍS in an exclusive interview on February 22 that he was aware that Spain’s position differs from that of other European countries.

“Spain is against any adventurist solution in Syria. This is something we appreciate. They didn’t support any military action against Syria, they said that’s going to make it more complicated. They didn’t talk about deposing the president or interfering in our national affairs. They said everything should happen through a political solution or political process. This is very good,” he said.

Spanish membership of the ISSG comes at a decisive moment: since the night of February 26, a ceasefire has been in place that, according to the UN, is being generally respected by all sides  – with the exception of the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front, the local branch of Al Qaeda.

Also, Thursday marked the beginning of preliminary consultations in Geneva prior to peace talks between Damascus and opposition groups. Negotiations “will not last beyond March 24,” according to a UN envoy.

Spain will not be present at these talks, but as a new member of ISSG, it will have first-hand information and, most crucially, will be able to make its voice heard on the subject of Syria’s future.

English version by Susana Urra.

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