Friends of Syria to press for peace talks

GENEVA 2::A US official said a US-Russia proposed peace conference was the most serious effort at talks yet. The Syrian opposition was not invited to the meeting


Thu, May 23, 2013 - Page 6

Countries supporting the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to meet in Amman yesterday to discuss ways to end the bloody conflict, mainly a US-Russian proposal for peace talks.

Eleven top diplomats from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the US, are attending the meeting of the Friends of Syria group.

“This meeting ... in Amman is to bring together all of the key players in the region, as well as the key partners in Europe and the United States, to talk about strategy,” a senior US Department of State official said. “It’s basically to review where we are on Syria.”

Ahead of the meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry was to hold a news conference at about 11:30am, after British Foreign Secretary William Hague met with reporters at 7am.

Syrian Ambassador to Jordan Bahjat Suleiman was to hold a rare press conference at about 9am.

Earlier this month the US and Russia, which support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, proposed a peace conference, dubbed Geneva 2, which would bring together rebels and representatives of al-Assad’s regime.

The US official described the conference as “the most serious effort in the last two years to get the Syrian government to sit down and to negotiate with the Syrian opposition.

“In my experience we haven’t seen a push that has such clear support from the Russians, from the United Nations,” he said, speaking by telephone from Amman.

A French diplomatic source said the conference “comes at a time when the regime is taking the lead on the ground as its supporters are getting more and more involved.”

Jordan has announced that for the first time in the 26-month conflict, the opposition, whose leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib resigned last month, has not been invited to the Friends of Syria meeting.

The main opposition National Coalition member Anas Abdeh told reporters on Monday that the opposition had not been invited “because the Friends of Syria want to reach a unified position on the international conference.”

Their common stance “will be revealed at the opposition’s meeting in Istanbul [Thursday], where they [Friends of Syria] will try and convince the opposition to take part in the [international] conference,” Abdeh added.

In Turkey, the opposition is set to choose a new leader and to decide whether it will take part in Geneva 2.

“One of the things we’ll be talking about here in Amman ... is what else needs to be done with respect to the military balance on the ground,” the US official said, urging the opposition to unify ranks.

“The first thing to do is for the Syrian opposition coalition — which we and Friends of Syria have all recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people — we need that opposition coalition to resolve its leadership questions and then turn to address its stance on Geneva. First things first,” he said.