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Syria peace talks set for 22 January in Geneva

25 November 2013, 23:07

Geneva - An international peace conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war will be held on 22 January, the first face-to-face talks between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to overthrow him, the United Nations said on Monday.

The United Nations is hoping for a peaceful transition in Syria, building on an agreement between world powers reached in June last year.

The deal calls for the warring sides to set up a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities, but leaves open the fate of Assad.

"We will go to Geneva with a mission of hope," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

The announcement came as Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met senior US and Russian officials in Geneva in his latest effort to get negotiations on track to end a war, now in its third year, that has killed more than 100 000 people.

Brahimi, with backing from world powers, has been trying to convene a peace conference since May and had hoped that it could be held in mid-December. He will hold a news conference at 15:30 to announce the list of invitees, a spokesperson said.

The participation of Syria's ally Iran in the peace conference has been a major stumbling block as Washington has opposed it, while Russia has backed Tehran's attendance.

It was not clear from Ban's statement whether Iran would be invited. He said he expected "all regional and international partners to demonstrate their meaningful support for constructive negotiations".

World powers including the United States clinched a deal on curtailing Iran's nuclear programme at the weekend, in a sign of easing tensions between the longtime foes.

Brahimi has previously called for Iran to be included in the conference.

The United States and its allies say Iran must accept the agreement of June 2012 before an invitation can be extended to January's "Geneva 2" talks.

Iran must back June 2012 deal

"Until Iran publicly endorses the Geneva communiqué, and therefore makes clear that it supports the purpose of the Geneva 2 conference, it is hard to see how it can play a constructive role in finding a political solution to the conflict," a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "a political transition would mean that Assad can have no future role in Syria".

A US official said US Secretary of State John Kerry would attend the talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the Syrian opposition for delays in convening the conference, saying it had repeatedly set out conditions for participation, including Assad's exit, which Moscow says cannot be a precondition for a peace process.

Lavrov, speaking in Rome during a trip with President Vladimir Putin, said: "It could have been held much earlier if the opposition had felt responsibility for its country and had not put forward preconditions when we met in September, October, November," state-run Russian news agency RIA reported.

Factional fighting and fragmentation among those seeking to overthrow Assad have hampered the revolt as well as diplomatic efforts to form a representative opposition party to negotiate with Assad's delegation.

Islamist fighters in Syria joined forces on Friday to form what may be the biggest rebel army in the country, further undermining Western-backed military commanders.

- Reuters


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