US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris for talks about the Syrian war, hoping to press the fractured opposition to participate in upcoming peace talks.
Yesterday’s meeting of the “Friends of Syria” grouping at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to include ministers from 11 countries that support the so-called Geneva 2 peace process, as well as the president of Syria’s main opposition National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba.
Those countries — the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan — will increase pressure on Jarba to persuade the opposition to join the UN-led talks, which are set to open in the Swiss town of Montreux on Jan. 22.
The talks would be the first time since the war erupted in March 2011 that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad sits down with the opposition to discuss an end to hostilities.
While the regime has said it will attend, the fractious, exiled opposition postponed a vote on whether to participate until Friday.
Iran will not participate in the Geneva 2 process, US diplomats said on Friday last week.
MIDDLE EAST TALKS
Kerry, whose plane took off from New York where he had a private event, will also take advantage of his stop in Paris to return to the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with a meeting of Arab League nations.
Kerry had been expected to return to Israel this week as he seeks to hammer out a framework to guide the negotiations in the coming months.
However, US Department of State spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said no decision had yet been made on when the top US diplomat might return for more talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
And the US State Department said the Paris meetings will keep him from traveling to Israel for today’s funeral of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
After Paris, Kerry heads to Kuwait on Wednesday for a Syrian donor’s conference set to be attended by officials from about 60 countries.
The conference aims to raise about US$6.5 billion to help Syrian civilians affected by the war.