Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Syria talks open in London with call for rebel unity

AFP, LONDON

A Free Syrian Army fighter crosses a wooden plank in Aleppo, Syria’s Karm al-Jabal District on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Arab and Western powers met in London yesterday to push Syrian opposition leaders to attend talks in Geneva next month, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad poured cold water on hopes of any peace deal.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the London meeting was aimed at persuading Syria’s fractious rebels to have a “united position” for the UN-backed conference in the Swiss city, scheduled for Nov. 23.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is at the talks along with Hague and counterparts from Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, together with opposition leaders.

The Syrian National Council, a key member of the Syrian National Coalition, has already said it opposes the Geneva conference and threatened to quit the umbrella opposition group if al-Assad’s regime takes part in the Geneva 2 conference.

Opposition representatives are due to meet early next month to thrash out their differences.

“The longer this conflict goes on, the most sectarian it becomes and the more extremists are able to take hold,” Hague told BBC radio. “That is why we are making this renewed effort to get the Geneva peace process going.”

The US and Russia have been trying to organize the Geneva conference on the heels of the deal they reached for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in the wake of a deadly poison gas attack in August.

However, al-Assad dealt an early blow to peace hopes, saying in an interview on Monday that he was willing to run for re-election next year and that the factors are not in place for the conference to succeed.

“No time has been set, and the factors are not yet in place if we want [Geneva 2] to succeed,” al-Assad told Lebanon-based pan-Arab satellite channel al-Mayadeen.

“Personally, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t run in the next election,” al-Assad said.

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