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Syria peace talks ‘no earlier than December’

A long-awaited peace conference for war-torn Syria appears set for further delays as sharp divisions persist between rival camps over the conditions for their participation.
The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, (centre left) met a range of senior diplomats in Geneva in a fresh push for an international conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict. UN via AFP
The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, (centre left) met a range of senior diplomats in Geneva in a fresh push for an international conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict. UN via AFP

GENEVA // A long-awaited Syrian peace conference will not happen this month, a top diplomat said today.

The new delay came as the United Nations said the scale of the crisis was much worse than previously thought.

More than nine million people, 40 per cent of the population, are in need of assistance after more than 30 months of fighting, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council.

The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met a range of senior diplomats in Geneva yesterday in a fresh push for an international conference aimed at ending the conflict.

“We were hoping that we’d be in a position to announce a date today, unfortunately we’re not,” Mr Brahimi said after the talks.

“But we’re still hoping that we’ll be able to have the conference before the end of the year.”

A US-Russia accord reached in September to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014 had raised hopes that diplomatic efforts might also manage to coax the warring sides to the negotiating table this month.

Mr Brahimi, who toured the region in recent weeks to drum up support for the talks, said he would meet again with US and Russian envoys on November 25.

Geneva 2 is meant to follow up on a conference last year that produced a transition plan for the war-ravaged country which was never implemented. It was initially planned for June, but has been repeatedly delayed amid stark disagreement over the premises for the talks and the list of participants.

The fate of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, remains the main sticking point, with an ever more splintered opposition refusing to attend unless his resignation is put up for discussion – a demand rejected by Damascus.

“We will not go to Geneva to hand over power,” the information minister Omran Al Zohbi said on Monday.

“President Bashar Al Assad will remain head of state,” he added.

The US secretary of state John Kerry stressed to reporters in Warsaw yesterday that the whole point of the peace conference was to put in place a transition government acceptable to both sides.

“I don’t know how anybody believes the opposition is going to give mutual consent to Assad to continue,” he said, urging the Syrian regime to “live up to its obligation to come to Geneva to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.”

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country has been a main backer of the Syrian rebellion, meanwhile criticised what he claimed were unconditional terms for Geneva 2, insisting yesterday that without a clear timetable the talks would “lead nowhere”.

Complicating issues further, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that Moscow wanted Iran, an ally of Mr Al Assad, to have a seat at the talks, despite threats from the rebels that they would boycott the conference if Tehran is invited.

The main umbrella opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it plans to meet in Istanbul on Saturday to decide whether to attend the peace talks, but the Syrian National Council, a key member of the bloc, has threatened to quit if it does so.

Some armed opposition groups in Syria have also warned that anyone who participated in the conference would be deemed traitors.

Mr Brahimi has warned that “if the opposition does not participate there will be no Geneva conference”.

He met yesterday morning with the Russian deputy foreign ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov and the US under secretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman.

Representatives of the three other permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France and Britain – were to join the meeting later, as were representatives of the UN, the Arab League and Syria’s neighbours, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, all of which have taken in large numbers of Syrian refugees.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: November 5, 2013 04:00 AM

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