Syria peace talks delayed again

‘STILL HOPING’::With the Syrian opposition split on terms for negotiations, the talks were put on hold, but UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi still hopes they will be held this year

AFP and AP, GENEVA and Damascus

Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 6

UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi expressed hope that a peace conference again delayed could still be held by year’s end, as the Syrian opposition remained deeply divided over its participation.

“We were hoping that we’d be in a position to announce a date today, unfortunately we’re not,” Brahimi told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

“But we’re still hoping that we’ll be able to have the conference before the end of the year,” the envoy said, adding that he would meet again with Russian and US officials on Nov. 25.

His comments followed a day of intense discussions with senior diplomats from the world powers in Geneva aimed at preparing a new international conference to try to end the Syrian conflict, but the meeting ended without a date.

Pressed to reveal the main stumbling blocks, Brahimi cited divisions within the Syrian opposition, saying he hoped they would “move towards the formation of a credible delegation” for peace talks.

The main umbrella opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it plans to meet in Istanbul tomorrow to decide whether to attend the peace talks, but a key member of the bloc has threatened to quit if it decides to attend and some rebels have warned that all participants will be deemed traitors.

The fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is crucial to the opposition, which has insisted that his resignation be on the negotiating table, a demand rejected by Damascus.

A senior US official voiced optimism that the conference, dubbed Geneva II, could be held by the end of the year, but stressed the importance of giving the splintered opposition time to create a representative delegation.

“This is about building the future of Syria. That is a long, difficult, complicated process. If it takes the opposition coalition a few more weeks to prepare themselves in the way they feel they need to ... we want to support them to do that,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Russia, a staunch ally of Damascus, was planning to meet with members of the Syrian opposition in Geneva yesterday, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov, who took part in Tuesday’s talks, told Russian media.

On the same day as the discussions in Geneva, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power voiced “skepticism” about Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons to an international watchdog and said it was checking its accuracy.

“More work, of course, remains to be done to ensure that the Syrian government’s list of declared sites is comprehensive and that the process remains on track, particularly as we enter the destruction phase,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, a mortar round slammed into a building housing the Vatican’s embassy in the Damascus, but no injuries were reported, witnesses and a spokesman said.

Other foreign diplomatic missions have been struck in the nearly three-year-old civil war, but it was unclear if the Vatican’s mission was specifically targeted.

Opposition fighters frequently fire mortar shells into the capital to undermine the government’s efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy in its stronghold.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred near the upscale Abu Roummaneh District and damaged the roof of the building. Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi told reporters the pre-dawn attack caused no casualties and Pope Francis had been informed about it.