Exiled Syrian opposition group calls for international community to 'prove its seriousness'
Exiled group calls for international community to 'prove its seriousness' ahead of Geneva talks
Associated Press in Beirut
Syria's main opposition group in exile yesterday said it had not made a final decision on whether it would participate in a peace conference to be held in Geneva.
It warned that the international community must "prove its seriousness" by forcing Damascus to agree on trust-building measures.
The comments illustrate the huge hurdles that lie ahead in bringing the warring sides together, even as world powers backed the conference, which will see the first face-to-face talks take place on January 22.
"We did not make a final decision yet on our participation in the Geneva conference," said Ahmad al-Jarba, chief of the Syrian National Coalition.
He said his group had indicated its desire to go, and added: "We think that the Syrian regime is the one which doesn't want to go to Geneva, but the Russians are putting pressure on them to attend."
The opposition has previously argued there is no use talking to the government unless it could lead to President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, and that negotiations for their own sake would merely prolong the conflict.
Al-Jarba spoke in Cairo, where he is scheduled to meet senior Egyptian and Arab League officials. Previous attempts to bring the two sides together have failed, mainly because of disputes over who should represent the opposition and the government, Assad's future role in the country and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table.
The UN set the date on Monday. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government and opposition to help the Geneva conference succeed by taking steps to stop the violence, provide access for desperately needed humanitarian aid, release detainees and help hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people return to their homes. He said a key goal would be the establishment of a transitional government with powers over the military and security forces.
A full list of participants has not yet been decided on.
The coalition, in a statement issued yesterday, reiterated its stand that there can be no role for Assad in any future transitional government.
"Bashar Assad or any of the criminals responsible for killing the Syrian people cannot be part of any transitional body and cannot have any role in Syria's political future," the statement said.
The Syrian government has repeatedly said it will not go to Geneva to hand over power.