Syria peace talks in doubt over opposition rifts

UN-Arab League envoy refused to give a firm date for a new round of talks in Geneva.

Written by PTI | Damascus | Published:October 21, 2013 2:57 pm

The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria says peace talks are in doubt unless a “credible opposition” takes part,overcoming rifts among its factions,as dozens are killed in a truck bombing in the Syrian city of Hama.

Lakhdar Brahimi refused to give a firm date for a new round of talks in Geneva as he spoke to reporters in Cairo on Sunday alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi,who had said preparations were under way for November 23.

Brahimi cautioned that the meeting would only go ahead in the presence of a “credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people” opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

“There is an agreement to attempt to hold Geneva 2 in November,but the date has not been officially set,” he said.

“The final date of the conference will be announced at a later time… and we hope it will take place in November.”

Both officials acknowledged the obstacles to a peace conference as Arab and Western diplomats-including US Secretary of State John Kerry-were preparing for a Friends of Syria meeting with opposition leaders tomorrow in London.

Brahimi is on the first leg of a Middle East tour aimed at drumming up support for the initiative to end the 31-month conflict that has killed more than 115,000 people.

The veteran troubleshooter said he would also travel to Qatar,Turkey,Iran,Syria and then Geneva for talks with Russian and US representatives.

Al-Watan,a pro-Damascus newspaper,said Brahimi would visit Syria next week.

Washington and Moscow have been trying to organise the conference on the heels of a landmark deal they reached for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons by mid-2014.

The Geneva initiative was first announced last year,but it has been repeatedly postponed amid opposition wrangling and a dispute over which countries,including Iran,should participate.

Syria has heavily criticised Brahimi,especially after he suggested a transitional government be set up and given full powers until elections,following his last visit in late 2012.

Al-Watan said Damascus was ready to welcome him as long as “he works as a mediator,not as a party in the international conflict over Syria”.

But Syria has consistently refused to enter negotiations that demand Assad quit power as a condition.

Meanwhile,the National Coalition umbrella opposition group said its members would decide in the coming days whether to attend the Geneva talks,while the Syrian National Council,a key component of the bloc,has threatened to quit if they do.

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