The “foremost” aim of the de-escalation or safe zones is to protect peaceful civilians, but Assad said they also provide armed militants with an opening “to enter into a truce with the government.”
“This is a chance for a person with weapons in hand to pause to think. In other words, if they lay down arms, amnesty would follow,” the Syrian president said in an interview with Belarusian ONT television aired on Thursday. The interview has also been published by the Syrian SANA agency.
The Syrian leader praised Russia’s peacemaking efforts, in particular, the Astana peace talks, where Moscow proposed the creation of such de-escalation zones in agreement with the other guarantor-states – Iran and Turkey.
“In Astana, the dialogue was with the armed terrorists under Russian sponsorship and based on a Russian initiative…This started to produce results through more than one attempt to achieve ceasefire, the most recent of which is what’s called the de-escalation areas,” Assad noted.
“It is correct in principle, and we supported it from the beginning because the idea is correct. As to whether it will produce results or not, that depends on the implementation,” the president said.
The safe zones, established in several Syrian provinces, including in Idlib, Aleppo and Homs, currently have a mixture of civilians, armed rebels and terrorist groups.
The point of the de-escalation zones is to protect the civilians in these areas and to allow rebels to lay down their arms in return for amnesty, Assad explained.
While optimistic that the initiative will work, Assad also warned that Western countries and their allies in the Middle East could use it to send more logistical and financial support to rebel groups there and undermine the security of the safe zones.
“This is very likely, and this is what happened before,” Assad said. “Former initiatives failed not because they were wrong. They failed because those countries interfered in order to re-escalate militarily.”
Assad said any attempts to stir up trouble in the demarcated areas will fail, adding, that Syrian and Russian forces, together with Iran and Hezbollah, “will strike any move on the part of the terrorists if they attempt to violate this agreement.”
The Syrian president noted that, so far, the Astana talks have proven to be more productive than Geneva format negotiations which so far produced little results.
“As to Geneva, so far it is merely a meeting for the media. There is nothing substantial in all the Geneva meetings. Not even one per million. It is null. The process is aimed in principle at pushing us towards making concessions,” Assad said.
Assad also commented on the American missile strike on Syria on April 7, when the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Airbase. The attack was ordered by US President Donald Trump in a symbolic “retaliation” to the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib Province that Washington blamed on Damascus without any proper investigation being carried out.
“After they failed in marketing their policy towards ISIS and al-Nusra through their support of these two organizations directly or indirectly… they wanted to wash their hands of the subject and to show that the problem in Syria is not ISIS and al-Nusra but the state which is killing its innocent citizens by using toxic gasses,” said Assad.
“It was also a cover for the American intervention in Syria, because as you know Trump is facing an internal predicament and internal conflicts within his administration,” the Syrian president said.
Venezuela’s opposition seeks chaos, not election to depose Maduro – Constituent Assembly director
“They are not interested in taking part in the elections when the situation is politically, economically and socially stable. Now they are not planning to run for elections at all, but initially they wanted the election to take place amid economic and social chaos in the country, thus they could have won by creating a mess in our society,” Elías José Jaua Milano, who was appointed president of the commission for the National Constituent Assembly, said in an interview with RT Spanish.
“This is their goal. They are not striving for elections taking place in normal conditions so that our people could freely express their political will,” Jaua Milano noted.
Protests have gripped the country since March 29, after the Supreme Court ruled to take over the duties of the National Assembly, a ruling many saw as undemocratic. Although the Supreme Court repealed the decree three days later, it was not enough to assuage anti-government protesters.
The opposition has demanded the government hold fresh general elections as soon as possible, while the government believes that holding a constitutional convention instead, is the only proper way to national reconciliation.
“We believe that President Nicholas Maduro must complete his legal [presidential] which expires in January 2019, and the presidential elections should be held in 2018,” the head of Constituent Assembly said.
After a month of violent street protests which has claimed the lives of at least 39 people, so far, Maduro invoked article 347 of the Bolivarian Constitution, which allows for the convening of a national constituent assembly with the aim of “transforming the state.”
Maduro also urged for a national dialogue. He has asked the Constituent Assembly to cooperate with all representatives of the opposition – many of whom themselves disagree with the actions and methods chosen by the senior opposition members representing the elite, according to Jaua Milano. The idea of all-inclusive talks have been supported by a number of Latin American nations as well as the Vatican.
“Nicholas Maduro decided to seek advice from the sovereign people’s government so that the legally elected members of the assembly could establish grounds that would allow for an elementary understanding and mutual respect between the parties to the conflict,” Jaua Milano explained to RT.
As public disorder in Venezuela enters its second month, some members of the Venezuelan opposition has refused to participate in the National Constituent Assembly convened in order to hear the voice of the people, and if necessary, amend the constitution.
Critics of Maduro say that his intention to negotiate with the opposition is in fact an attempt to delay regional and municipal elections slated for this year.
Maduro’s government, in turn, accuses the opposition of refusing to engage in talks but instead looking to oust him by any means necessary.
“They are rejecting taking part in a dialogue and in the elections because they actually don’t want to resolve this conflict through elections. They are trying to depose President Nicholas Maduro,” Jaua Milano said.
The Venezuelan people, including those opposing the government, are against violence, but opposition figures are deliberately pushing for an escalation of the conflict, Jaua Milano believes.
“Venezuela’s top opposition officials are acting on the instruction of most radical parts of the US government… and are carrying out the White House’s request to start a kin-on-kin war in Venezuela,” he said.
Speaking of the underlying reasons for such actions, Jaua Milano said the United States is trying to “punish people who dared to be independent” since Washington “can’t let true democracies to exist.”
“Those from the United States who are trying to ignite this conflict should have…more carefully analyzed the scale that the civil war in Venezuela could achieve,” Jaua Milano said, warning that such a war could set the entire region on fire.
The head of the Constituent Assembly stressed that authorities are not resorting to lethal weapons and are not responsible for the mounting death toll in the ongoing protests.
“In Venezuela, representatives of law enforcement agencies are not allowed to shoot at protesters. And although [the protesters] have already resorted to the use of firearms, the commanders of special forces still have orders to use only water cannons and tear gas,” Jaua Milano told RT.
“The death of people during the riots was often caused by the actions of the rioters themselves. They either walked into the crosshairs of the opposition snipers or found themselves in chaotic situations that led to their death.”
The goal of the opposition is to present the government as an oppressor that violates human rights, and to depict a failed state by encouraging chaos that leads to casualties, Jaua Milano said.
“This is a war in which dramatic pictures attracts most attention: Nudists, standing in front of police. People throwing themselves into the river as a result of alleged police harassment,” he said.
“This is a comprehensive strategy aimed at creating chaos in state institutions, in society, provoking clashes among the civilian population in order to prove the state’s failure and justify a foreign military invasion.”
‘There is no potential for any conflict in the Arctic’ – Lavrov
“Russia is doing and will do a lot to make sure the Arctic develops as a territory of peace, stability and cooperation,” Lavrov said speaking at the council’s meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska. “There is no potential for any conflict here.”
“International law makes it possible to reliably ensure the national interests of all Arctic states in our common region,” he emphasized.
Lavrov said the expansion of economic ties in the Arctic is among Russia’s priorities.
“As the largest Arctic power, we continue to contribute to enhancing the region’s stability [in regards to] to global challenges, implementing the agenda approved by the UN General Assembly for the period until 2030.”
The Arctic Council, formed in 1996 to co-ordinate international efforts for sustainable development in the Arctic territories, does not typically discuss military or security issues. However, Lavrov lamented the suspension of high-level military talks between defence officials of the Arctic states.
“Between our countries until 2013 there was a practice of annual meetings of the chiefs of the armed forces of the Arctic states. These meetings were very useful in terms of building confidence and mutual understanding, but unfortunately, for the fourth year now they have not taken place, and not at the initiative of our country,” he said.
Among the delegates present were representatives of Sweden, Finland, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States – with State Secretary Rex Tillerson transferring the two-year rotating Arctic Council chairmanship to the Finnish FM Timo Soini.
Tillerson said the Council has proven to be an indispensable forum in which the Arctic states can pursue cooperation, but added: “We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view… (but) We are going to make the right decision for the United States.”
Various indigenous organizations, including the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’In Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Saami Council and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), represented by Vice President Vladimir Klimov, were also present at the meeting.
“I promise to take measures that will make it more comfortable for representatives of the indigenous peoples of Russia to participate in the work of the Arctic Council,” Lavrov said, noting that all native peoples should have a more active role in the Arctic Council.
The council adopted an intergovernmental document noting the need for global action to reduce climate pollutants and strengthening international scientific cooperation. This, according to Lavrov, has the potential to boost mutually beneficial economic ties.