russia has always denied it ordered the hacking of democratic party e—mails and the production of fake news. donald trump is to be briefed by intelligence agency chiefs before the weekend. two people have been killed and least five have been wounded in a car bomb explosion in the turkish resort of izmir. the blast took place outside the city's courthouse. two of the attackers were shot dead by police and a third is said to be on the run. in mexico, a police officer is dead and more than 600 people have been arrested after violent protests followed a demonstration over petrol prices. demonstrators are furious about a 20% increase announced five days ago. protestors have blockaded highways and petrol stations. let's have a quick look at some of the front pages of the morning's papers. the ft says top spies in the us are on a collision course with president—elect donald trump two weeks before his inauguration. it's after they rejected his dismissal of their findings that russia interfered
in the recent election. the metro pays tribute to the sex assault campaigner and rape survivorjill sawa rd, who's died at the age of 51. the paper calls her the bravest of the brave. the mail also pays tribute to jill saward, but leads on a story that civil servants working on brexit, have asked for a pay rise due to unsustainable pressure. the i investigates new homes being built on flood plains, saying it's found that 1,200 properties have been built in what it calls danger areas. the telegraph's top story is the admission by the bank of england's chief economist that it's warnings of an economic downturn in the wake of the brexit vote were wrong. the times also leads on optimism regarding the british economy, and news that theresa may will visit donald trump next month, after her two most trusted aides began what it calls a secret mission to build bridges. and the express leads on the six—day run of highs of the ftse 100. now on bbc news, it's
time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. after six years of terrible bloodshed, could 2017 dramatically shift the dynamic of the syria conflict? change is in the air. aleppo has fallen to the assad regime, and a ceasefire deal brokered by russia and turkey is just about folding. brokered by russia and turkey is just about holding. moscow's dominant role in the diplomatic endgame is now undisputed, with ankara playing a pivotal role as well. my guest is bassma kodmani of the negotiating team of the syrian opposition. is it time for the moderate rebels to accept their de facto defeat? bassma kodmani, in paris,
welcome to hardtalk. hello, stephen. thank you. it's a pleasure to have you on the programme. let me start with a question that comes directly from the new year. do you see 2017 bringing with it better prospects for an end to the conflict in syria than we have seen at any time in the previous, almost, six years? i do, carefully optimistic, but i do. i do hope, and we are working towards making 2017 the end of the disaster of the tragedy and the beginning of a political transition.
that is what we are hoping for and the coming weeks will tell us whether we are moving in that direction but there is certainly a turning point and certainly something to build on at the moment with the new players that have asserted themselves, and i think there is space for diplomacy now if the signals coming out from moscow and from turkey as well as, very carefully, from tehran, if these signals are sincere, then we have some hope for a political settlement, yes. i want to talk about the key players and their signals in a minute butjust taking up your phrase about a turning point — would it be fair to say that the defeat of the anti—assad forces in aleppo was a fundamental turning point? certainly, the military confrontation has turned to the advantage of the assad regime. why?
simply because it had the full and massive support of russian air force on one hand and pro—iranian militia, sectarian militias on the ground as ground forces. very little was done by assad's forces, it was by one key regional power and one key international power, so it was obvious the outcome was not going to be in favour of the opposition. but one needs to look back five years ago 01’ even six years ago when the uprising started. those who rose up against assad had no arms, no military means at all, so we are looking at a confrontation that is ending militarily, but the ingredients for a conflict and the confrontation is still there. if we are going to build on the military balance of forces,
i don't think we will go very far in either defeating terrorism in syria or in ending the conflict and having a satisfactory political transition. the people of syria and goodness knows that they have suffered so much, they have seen well over 300,000 of their people killed, they have seen 12 million and more displaced including 5 million who have left the country altogether. with that in mind, is this the right time for you in the so—called moderate anti—assad opposition who have been aligned with the united states and the saudis in particular, would it be the right time to acknowledge that you have lost out here? you wanted assad to go and those who have prevailed, the russians in particular and the iranians as well, they are the people who are insistent that assad need not and will not go? to be fair to the opposition,
it has sought support from democratic countries, it has received very little support and obviously the assad regime has received massive support. russia has decided syria would be the place where it would signal its international power, stature and military might. we have seen it happen on our territory. it is not because we chose to align ourselves with this or that party. we as syrians are asking for dignity, rights, freedom and security and the right to life today for every syrian, and for that to happen, we will be working with any country serious about organising and facilitating a political transition. we have tried it with assad himself directly for ten years, then the population rose against assad for six years. did not receive any
concession, none whatsoever. we look to all the powers in this world and if russia is serious about brokering a settlement in syria, it will find a partner among the moderate opposition, both military and political. these are people who the moderate political opposition is very clear about. the state needs to remain. there has to be continuity of governance, we need to restore security to syria because we know the international community is worried about international terrorism coming out of syria. if i may, let me read between the lines. you acknowledge the russians are driving the process, no question. the americans with 0bama in his final days as president, with donald trump singing a very different tune, the americans aren't really in this game at the moment and as far as you're concerned, you are now ready, are you, to undertake the peace
negotiations the russians want, to be, they say, hosted in astana, kazakhstan, with the turks and the iranians playing key roles with no sign of the americans? are you with your team in the high negotiations council of the opposition prepared to participate in that process? look, i believe if these talks were to take place in astana or geneva or any other place, if they are placed under the terms of reference, if the terms for the talks are clear, if they refer to un resolutions which russia has voted for, there is no problem in participating in such a process. russia is brokering a cessation of hostilities on the ground. if this holds, the parties will be ready to go whether they are military or political. what we would like to see is certainly the new us administration step in and take some
responsibility in brokering this political arrangement. we have russia telling us it is serious about political settlement. we have turkey playing a positive role but so far we have not had a positive role from iran. let us admit that iran has been the key spoiler. sectarian militias on the ground are our key problem today in syria. they are fuelling jihadis on the opposition side. what we need as a priority is a coalition of countries, and the trump administration should be part of that, to push out those sectarian militias who are poisoning the ground inside syria. i will push you on this a little bit. you can say what should happen and what you would like to happen, but let's deal with reality, what is happening. the us is not playing a role
and the un, frankly, has been sidetracked as well. the russians are dominating the diplomacy right now, and i want a simple yes or no answer. are you prepared to go to peace talks that are brokered and controlled by russia? the russians, who don't see a reason to insist that assad be removed from power. are you prepared to undertake and participate in those talks under russian auspices? the russians are referring to the un resolutions. if that is clearly the case, there is no problem in participating. the opposition can go. what i'm saying is the trump administration, the us congress, are clearly coming out against iranian behaviour across the middle east because it has really destabilised the region. that is where we can expect the trump administration will play a role in pressuring iran to limit its presence across the region. it's iraq, syria, lebanon, yemen, everywhere in the region, and we have a real problem there with the shia militias on the ground.
we cannot get rid of sunni jihadis whether it is daesh, al nusra, radical groups, if we have this poisonous presence of shia militias on the side of the regime. this is where iran needs to come to terms with what needs to happen on the ground in order for syria to see a peaceful settlement. on one point of detail, yesterday a coalition of 12 or so different anti—assad forces on the ground said they were going to reject any further diplomacy under the russian—astana tent because of what they described as systematic violations of the ceasefire agreement by assad forces on the ground. is that your position or are you prepared to say that the ceasefire is holding in a satisfactory way? unfortunately the ceasefire is not holding.
these groups are the ones who signed with russia, and russia signed on behalf of the regime, an agreement for cessation of hostilities. the groups abided by the ceasefire and the syrian regime is notabiding. what the groups are asking is for russia to get the assad regime to behave, to comply and enforce the cessation of hostilities. if it is credible, a political negotiation can happen. these groups are willing to go to astana, they signed, they said they were going, and now we see the other side is not respecting any of that. we need russia to put pressure needed, and it can do so, on iran as well as the syrian regime if it wants a political settlement. i personally believe that russia today has an interest in finding an exit strategy through a political settlement.
i would expect it will do so. we have spoken a lot about the russians in this interview. have you and other negotiators who have aimed your efforts mostly at the un, in geneva, have you reached out privately or maybe covertly with key russian officials? through the united nations we have contacts with everyone involved in this crisis. with respect, i don't mean through the un track. the financial times reported last month that some moderate leaders had covert and secret talks with russian officials hosted by the turks in ankara. have you been involved in that? the turks have hosted talks with military groups and lots of political figures from the opposition have also been in touch directly with russia. some have gone to moscow and some have met them elsewhere. there are many messages passed
on to the russians and they know exactly where the opposition stands and what it is willing to negotiate. really, the problem today is not so much russia and the opposition. they know each other, or they understand each other‘s position. we are willing to operate and negotiate under the political transition, fine, we can go to a negotiation on political transition... if i may say, we have talked before and you have always in the past said, you know what, it's quite simple, the removal of assad, no role for us in the transition. that is a dealbreaker dealbreakerfor us. we cannot sign anything or engage in any process that involves assad. it seems to me that you must be changing your mind. if you say you believe in russia's good faith and believe in their desire to see the conflict ended, we know the russians don't feel that assad has to go, so presumably, you have given
ground on that, have you? look, can i say very simply, we read the international equation. here's the balance of forces on the ground, here is what russia is seeking to achieve, a political settlement, fine, along the lines of resolutions in the un, to talk about political transition. that is fine for us. what assad becomes is he behaves in these negotiations. is he in a position to make concessions, to yield some of his prerogatives, a lot of his prerogatives, most of his prerogatives, any of his prerogatives, to a transition government? if that is the case then the discussion changes but do you think the opposition... but he might be leading the transition. he cannot lead it. what? he obviously cannot lead it, he is not showing any indication other than destroying communities and starving people. we need to see some behaviour
that is positive on the other side. then we will have a partnerfor peace. if we don't i think russia will come to terms with the fact that it doesn't have another party on the other side and cannot ask the opposition to do much to work with assad if assad doesn't want to work with the opposition. so, the equation is fairly easy, you know. we are not asking for assad to go away the day we enter negotiations. we are talking about negotiations in which there are give and take. we need prisoners out, we need women and children to be safe and to be released also from prisons. we need the disappeared, to have news about them. we need to have the bombings stopped, and barrel bombs stop being thrown at people, at civilians. i am sorry to repeat myself, i don't want to get stuck on this issue, but one last time, it seems to me you have given ground on the role of assad.
you are now acknowledging to me that assad will be a key figure in the negotiations. he won'tjust be removed, it will be assad in many ways who is the figure deciding what he can give. look, the power of assad is very little, he has nuisance power, yes, but those who are negotiating, the decision—making power, is in moscow and in tehran. unfortunately, there is no syrian regime that can still decide on a yes 01’ no. that is why we are talking to russia. we will be talking to the countries and the parties that support the assad regime, not so much the regime itself. we need to find some reasonable voices over there. we have not seen them so far. he has prevented them from rising. and if negotiations can bring those reasonable voices out, and if we can talk to them and have them safely talk to us without being themselves punished for showing some reasonable
behaviour, then we will have a negotiated process. otherwise, i think russia will understand — iran is more difficult — but russia will understand that it doesn't have a helpful partner out there and it needs to work differently with the opposition. everything we are talking about is couched in terms of moscow, putin, russia. let's look at how we got to where we are today. do you feel desperately let down, maybe even betrayed, by the 0bama administration? i think the 0bama administration has opted out. it should have played the role that was what a us role should be in this region. 0pting out of this region is abandoning certain responsibilities vis—a—vis syria but also vis—a—vis the whole region — iraq, the gulf countries — we are in a region where the us was a key player. it cannotjust pull out as it did. and, in the case of syria, it is the syrian population, yes, paying the price. 0bama, you know, he steered away
from obviously any significant military action against assad. it looked possible for a while he walked away from it. he talked — at least, hillary clinton talked for a while about some sort of aerial intervention to establish safe havens. they walked a very long way from that. they talked about training moderate forces on the ground. well, the training programme turned out to be pitiful — actually, farcical. so, when you look at all of those elements of what the administration talked about and didn't deliver, give me your final verdict as 0bama's about to leave office? well, i believe he should have thought of where security — how to restore security in syria, and today that his our concern. the 0bama administration has decided that there was no possibility to challenge russia. he certainly should have challenged russia at some point.
and at those turning points he failed us, he certainly did. but i think what we are looking at today is, can we bring back security to syria? this is the concern of the international community. unfortunately no one is thinking about assad. assad can sit there. they don't see the link and the risk between terrorism rising and assad staying in power. fine, but what we are saying today is, if you want to bring an alternative to the horrible criminal system that we have in syria, then we have to have a security plan for this country. and we need the cooperation of every country. we need the us, we need russia. briefly, your message for donald trump, then, donald trump, the man who says vladimir putin is very smart, and who also says that when it comes to analysing the syria situation, his objective and, frankly, his overriding concern is smashing
thejihadists in so—called islamic state. it doesn't seem to be in getting rid of assad whatsoever. so, your message to trump? the message to trump is, get the foreign fighters out of syria. shia militias are pro—iranian, they are iraqis, afghanis, iranians, not syrians. and on the other side there are jihadis who are foreigners, and we want them out of the country. this is what the international community needs to help — the reasonable syrians to achieve in the coming weeks and months. at least then we can have the ground for a political settlement, yes. we don't have much time left, and i want you to reflect on the six years that have brought us here. you've been actively involved with the opposition throughout pretty much that entire six—year period, and here we are with russia in the ascendancy, with the americans basically opted out and donald trump singing a tune which doesn't sound like it will soon be very well, and on the ground the opposition forces defeated in aleppo and on the defensive in the pockets
of territory they still retain, is it time for you to quit, for the opposition to say, we tried, we failed, the country has been ruined and the best thing now is to walk away and accept defeat because that is the only way we can save further life? you know, this is our country, we can't give up, giving up makes no sense. what we are looking to do, to achieve... it makes sense if you are saving lives. well, no, it's not, because coming under assad's control tomorrow morning, if that is to happen, is under also under shia militias. again, assad has no capacity to control the country again, has no capacity to govern it, neither legitimacy or military capacity. he needs those foreign troops to be on the ground. so it is too late to imagine
a scenario of assad returning and retaking control of a whole country. that is not going to happen because he cannot do it, even if russia wants him to do it, he cannot achieve it. russia knows it. well, i will tell you what, quickly, russia seems to want, as best as we can understand from what officials have said, is they want a much more federal system, assad to still be president, much more autonomy to the regions of syria, which would recognise the rights of the different ethnic groupings in the country, a looser, looser system, but one which still has assad at its federal centre. could you imagine accepting that? i think the russians will themselves realise that that is not going to work with assad. we want decentralisation, we want a loose control from the centre, we want, obviously, a democratic participative system, so we are on the side of the community on this, is assad on the side of the community? that is a question to ask.
is he willing to fightjihadi groups? the shia groups are as jihadi as as al—nusra or daesh group. so that is what we need to achieve. is assad a partner in doing that? i don't think he has shown indication of that. this is where we believe the opposition is showing every sign that it is part of the solution and that working with it builds security capacity and governance capacity for a future syria. yes or no, do you think we will be having this conversation again at the beginning of 2018 with syria still at war, or will it be over by then? i think war will be over by then. i think the parties are exhausted. and i do believe that in 2018 we will be talking about what we have reconstructed so far and how we have brought legitimate governance to the different areas of syria. that is my belief and that is what we are fighting for. we will end on that positive note.
bassma kodmani, thank you very much forjoining me from paris. hello there, good morning. yesterday morning we saw the lowest temperature so far in england this winter, we got to —8.1 in rural 0xfordshire. this morning the frost is nowhere near as widespread. there'll be some across the south—eastern quarter of the uk, but, the further west you go, a lot more cloud, and that cloud is bringing at least some rain with it, but it's also helping to get the temperatures up, seven or eight degrees to start the day in glasgow and belfast. but it'll be quite widespread in the western side of scotland, the eastern side faring
a little bit better. still cloudy and it's quite wet in northern ireland first thing this morning. some rainjust fringing into the western side of england and wales. not quite into cornwall and devon at this stage, so it's largely dry here. head a little bit further east and it's notjust cold and frosty, there'll be some patches of fog, and some of that fog will be slow to clear, and it could be quite dense in places, so do bear that in mind if you're heading out on the roads. and there'll be some patches of fog in eastern anglia, it'll be a chilly old day here. chilly here across northern england, but a fair bit of cloud and just a little bit of rain first thing. now, our main area of rain will be toppling its way a little bit further southwards and eastwards through the day, so it'll eventually get down to the midlands, some light and patchy rain here into the afternoon, but it never really gets to east anglia and the south—east, so here it'll stay fairly cloudy into the afternoon, but there'll some breaks, but here's also where we see the lowest temperatures. but furtherwest, milderair coming from the atlantic, it could get into double figures. and that milder air,
the less—cold air, comes in from the atlantic on that westerly breeze, and that'll push a little bit of patchy rain across some parts first thing on saturday but, actually, into the weekend, yeah, a lot less cold than what we've seen recently, but a lot of cloud across most places through the weekend and a little bit of patchy rain and drizzle, but certainly not a wash out, just pretty grey skies. so, we do see a lot of cloud on saturday, a little bit of rain here and there, maybe a few breaks in the cloud, top temperatures around about ten or 11 degrees, so something a lot less cold coming into the united kingdom, but we've got this cold northerly wind down across central and eastern parts of europe, and it really will be a very cold weekend through the balkans, it could go as low as —10, and that'll be daytime temperatures, so a big contrast across europe this weekend. second part of the weekend back on our shores looks a lot like the first part of the weekend, a lot of cloud, not much rain, but there will be some, and temperatures peaking at around about nine or 10 degrees. and then on into the early part of the coming week we start to see a very warm welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to our viewers in north america
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