US thinks it can coax opposition to Syria peace talks



WASHINGTON- The United States is "reasonably confident" that it can persuade the Syrian opposition to join peace talks slated for later this month, US diplomats said Friday.
Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to head to Paris to meet on Sunday with ministers from the "Friends of Syria" group in the hopes of finalizing the last details of the key conference.



The head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition Ahmad Jarba will also be at the talks in the French capital, and is likely to come under intense pressure to join the Geneva 2 talks set to open on January 22.
The aim of the UN-led talks is to bring together the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition for the first time since the war erupted in March 2011.
Negotiations will focus on establishing a transitional government, as set out in a June 2012 accord, paving the way toward a new leadership and an end to the bloodshed that has already claimed some 130,000 lives.
They will first open in the Swiss city of Montreux, before moving to Geneva for further discussions at a lower level, but the exiled Syria opposition has postponed a decision on whether to attend until January 17.
"Personally, I'm reasonably confident that we'll be successful because this is their first opportunity to face the Syrian administration face to face," a top State Department official said, asking not to be named.
"I think in the final analysis they won't want to miss that opportunity, because frankly there's no other game, really."
Sunday's meeting will gather foreign ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
The Syrian National Council, the main component of the coalition, had said it would boycott the conference, refusing to negotiate until Assad's regime is toppled.
But the Syrian government insists that Assad's departure from power is not up for discussion.
Sunday's talks in Paris will also discuss whether Iran, which has been funneling arms and cash to Assad, should be allowed to participate in the Geneva talks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to chair the Geneva conference and he has already invited about 20 countries to attend, but not Iran.
Russia, the chief ally of Assad's regime, is keen to see Iran at the table, but the United States has insisted Tehran should first back the 2012 accord setting out a path to a transitional government.
"Iran has not accepted the provisions of the Geneva I agreement, and no, they're not coming," the State Department official said.
Kerry will also meet in Paris on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
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Saturday, January 11th 2014
AFP
           


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