23-January-2014 -- ZENIT.org News Agency |

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Geneva II: First Meeting Ends with 'Cautious Optimism'

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi Speaks to ZENIT on Hopes and Challenges for Syria

By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, January 23, 2014 (Zenit.org) - The first preparatory meeting at the Geneva II Peace Conference has ended today. The meeting is aimed at bringing an end to the bloody conflict that has ravaged Syria for the past three years. Diplomats hope to establish a transitional government with a new Constitution and elections that will hopefully lead Syrians in determining their future.

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, is leading the Holy See's delegation to the conference, accompanied by Msgr. Alberto Ortega Martin, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

ZENIT interviewed Archbishop Tomasi by phone, who pointed out the challenges posed as well as the hopes that are emerging at the Geneva II Peace Conference. Archbishop Tomasi also revealed that UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was grateful for the Holy Father's intervention.

* * *

ZENIT: How are the negotiations proceeding? Are there signs of hope or is it a 'Babel' where each one wants his own thing?

Archbishop Tomasi: The situation is extremely complex, but there are a few, small positive signs. The first is the presence of the Government of Syria as well as the Opposition yesterday, and a very strong message was given on the part of the International Community, with the presence of some forty Governments and delegations, almost all of whom, with the exception of Australia and the Holy See, were led by their Foreign Ministers.

Therefore, the will of the International Community was manifested, headed by [Secretary of State] Kerry of the United States, [Foreign Minister] Lavrov of Russia and UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who chaired yesterday's meeting.

Hence the clear sign that the International Community is saying is enough of the violence and exerting pressure on the Syrians who are the ones who must resolve the problem, beginning with the ceasefire.

Tomorrow, here at Geneva, the concrete negotiations begin between the Government's delegation and that of the Opposition, to find a future agreement. It's a very difficult and very complicated situation, but something must be done.

ZENIT: The Opposition was greatly divided among themselves. Have they succeeded in choosing a spokesman?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Opposition was not wholly represented at Geneva. Above all there is a common voice that wants the foreign forces, these violent groups to go home. There is talk, in fact, of more than sixty nations represented by these groups of mercenaries and persons inspired by extremism who come from Western and Muslim countries, and they are a factor of destabilization which complicated the negotiations a lot. However, those who are serious in the Opposition and of the Government seem to want to speak with one another.

ZENIT: How can this galaxy of extremist groups that come from other countries be controlled?

Archbishop Tomasi: One of the recommendations made by the Holy See is to stop the flow of arms and money to all the parties involved in the conflict in order to concentrate on humanitarian rights. In other words, to cut the money to these extremist groups.

ZENIT: And al-Assad? The transition?

The launching point should be the conclusions of the Geneva I Conference [in June 2012), which requested essentially, a transitional Government, the preparation of a new Constitution and the holding of free elections. Starting from this part of the first conclusive document of Geneva, to then take one step after another to implement that agreement which was strengthened by the Security Council.

ZENIT: Is there a glimmer of hope?

Archbishop Tomasi: We'll see, we pray. It's a very complicated situation.

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