Syria 'ready' to attend peace talks in Geneva
Associated Press in Baghdad
The Syrian government has agreed in principle to take part in an international conference in Geneva next month aimed at ending the country's civil war, its foreign minister said yesterday.
The comments by Walid al-Moallem marked the first direct confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready to send representatives to the UN-sponsored conference. Late last week, Syria ally Russia said the regime was willing to participate. Yesterday's statement puts more pressure on Syria's main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, to signal acceptance as well. The group was meeting in Istanbul for the fourth day yesterday to come up with a unified position on the proposed talks, elect new leaders and expand membership.
Much about the conference remains uncertain, including its date, agenda and list of participants. There are also still gaps between the two sides on what the meeting should accomplish.
Syrian opposition leaders have said they are willing to attend the Geneva talks, but that Assad's departure from power must top the agenda of any political transition. Assad said earlier this month that he will only step down after elections are held.
Louay Safi, a senior opposition member, said yesterday that those conditions still stand, but that the Coalition currently is bogged down with disagreements over expansion and cannot issue a definitive statement on participation in the Geneva peace talks.
Al-Moallem said yesterday that talks in Geneva presented a "good opportunity for a political solution for the crisis in Syria", but did not say under what terms the Assad government would dispatch representatives.