Geneva peace talks on Syria in doubt

Involvement of Iran and Syrian rebels in Syrian peace talks still not agreed upon, as president Bashar Al Assad continues to defy calls to stand down.

US secretary of state John Kerry, right, pictured with Qatari foreign minister Khaled Al Attiyeh, left, prior to an Arab League meeting in Paris. Mr Kerry criticised Iran for not backing a transitional government in Syria. Michel Euler / AP
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Paris // The US secretary of state, John Kerry, criticised Iran yesterday, saying it was difficult to see how Iran could play a constructive role in planned peace talks in Geneva without backing plans for a transitional government in Syria.

Speaking in Paris after talks with the Qatari foreign minister, Khaled Al Attiyah, Mr Kerry criticised Iran for failing to support the implementation of a first round of talks in Geneva.

“It’s very hard to see how Iran can be constructive in the absence of their willingness to come for the purpose of the negotiation,” he said. “If they accept Geneva 1, and want to be constructive in helping to set up a transitional government, that’s a different issue.”

The Syrian opposition has been hampered by infighting and has said it will boycott the Geneva conference unless the president, Bashar Al Assad, agrees to step down.

Mr Al Assad yesterday also cast doubt on the proposed talks in Switzerland.

“No time has been set, and the factors are not yet in place if we want talks to succeed,” Mr Al Assad told the Lebanese channel Al Mayadeen.

“Which forces are taking part? What relation do these forces have with the Syrian people? Do these forces represent the Syrian people, or do they represent the states that invented them?”

Mr Al Assad has defied calls from his Syrian opponents and many foreign governments to stand down.

“Personally, I don’t see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential election,” he said yesterday.

He said the will of the Syrian people would influence his decision on whether to run in 2014.

“As for people’s desire, it is too soon to talk about it. We can only discuss it when the election date is announced,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Kerry had met the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, in an attempt to calm tensions with Saudi Arabia after it spurned a UN Security Council seat in fury at inaction over the crisis in Syria.

Saudi Arabia rejected a coveted two-year term on the council for what it called “double standards” at the United Nations.

Prince Saud Al Faisal hosted a lunch for Mr Kerry at his private residence in Paris yesterday.

Mr Kerry would not try to persuade the Saudis to reverse their rejection of a seat on the Security Council, a state department official said, but would cite the advantages of being on the 15-member body.

The council has been paralysed over the 31-month-old Syria conflict, with permanent members Russia and China repeatedly blocking measures to condemn Mr Al Assad, a longtime ally of Riyadh’s regional arch-rival Iran.

Mr Kerry was also to meet Arab League representatives in Paris ahead of today’s meeting of the Syrian opposition and its western and Arab backers.

Also yesterday, Qatar agreed to provide US$150 million (Dh550m) in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse