22 October 2013, 18:36

UK's Hague urges Syria opposition to join Geneva talks

UK's Hague urges Syria opposition to join Geneva talks

Syria's moderate opposition should "commit itself fully" to planned peace talks, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said after talks in London.

Planned talks in Geneva next month offered Syrians the "best hope to improve their lives", Mr Hague said.

He was speaking after Arab and Western foreign ministers had gathered to meet Syrian opposition officials.

A key group in Syria's main opposition alliance has threatened to boycott the planned meeting, dubbed Geneva II.

Mr Hague admitted that an increasingly prominent role was being played in Syria by Islamist rebels linked to al-Qaeda, who are engaged in no kind of peace process and who have been involved in bitter struggles with more moderate forces.

"The reason we have to make sure we are supporting and dealing with the moderate opposition committed to a democratic, pluralistic, non-sectarian future for Syria is precisely because if they don't have a role, then all the Syrian people have got left is a choice between Assad and extremists," Mr Hague said.

"The longer this conflict goes on, the more sectarian it becomes. That's why we're making a renewed effort" with Geneva II, Mr Hague said.

Syria talks open in London, ministers call for rebel unity

Arab and Western powers met in London Tuesday to push Syrian opposition leaders to attend talks in Geneva next month. A key group in Syria's main opposition alliance is threatening to boycott the talks, which are expected next month in Geneva.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is at the talks along with Hague and counterparts from Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, together with opposition leaders.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the London meeting was aimed at persuading Syria's fractious rebels to have a "united position" for the UN-backed conference in the Swiss city, pencilled in for November 23.

"The political process, assembling a peace conference in Geneva with the participation of the regime and the opposition, is the main focus of our meeting today," Hague told Sky News as the ministers gathered.

The Syrian National Council, a key member of the Syrian National Coalition, has already said it opposes the Geneva conference and threatened to quit the umbrella opposition group if Assad's regime takes part in the Geneva-2 conference. Opposition representatives are due to meet in early November to thrash out their differences.

"So we are meeting ahead of that to encourage them to have a united position, to show that those in the world among Westerners and Arab nations who understand and sympathise with their position in Syria have a united position, that they should go to the Geneva peace talks and stop the blood and talk together as Syrians," Hague told BBC radio.

"The longer this conflict goes on, the most sectarian it becomes and the more extremists are able to take hold, that is why we are making this renewed effort to get the Geneva peace process going."

The United States and Russia have been trying to organise the Geneva conference on the heels of the deal they reached for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons in the wake of a deadly poison gas attack in August.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius agreed that the meeting in London should discuss a transitional process for Syria "in which Bashar al-Assad can play no role", according to a statement from the foreign ministry in Paris.

Hague meanwhile said Iran - a key Damascus ally - could also play a role in the Geneva talks if it backed the need for a transitional government in Syria.

He said he had discussed Syria with the new Iranian foreign minister as part of warming ties between Tehran and London.

"I have put it to him that he and Iran should be starting from the same position as the rest of us, from last year's Geneva agreement, which is that there should be a transitional governement in Syria made up of regime and opposition by mutual consent.

"If Iran could start from that position as well as the rest of us, then Iran will be more easily included in international discussions on this subject."

Foreign ministers of 11 countries to meet in London in preparation for Geneva-2

The foreign ministers of eleven countries will meet in London on October 22 for the London-11 talks to discuss preparations for the upcoming Geneva-2 international peace conference on Syria, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday.

'Friends of Syria' converge on London

Foreign ministers of the so-called 'Friends of Syria' group will discuss in London ways of resolving the Syrian problem and preparing for 'Geneva 2'.

"According to decisions of the UN Security Council, the UK will host a meeting of 11 Foreign Ministers, as they discuss preparations for the Geneva conference on Syria, support for the Syrian national coalition, and our efforts for a political settlement of the conflict", - said the head of the British Foreign Ministry William Hague.

The meeting will be attended by foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, UK and USA.

Representatives of the Syrian opposition are also expected to put in an appearance, reports RIA Novosti.

No date set for Geneva-2 peace conference - Syrian President

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday there was no date set for the long-awaited international conference aimed at ending the country's civil war.

"There is no date so far...and current factors do not help in holding it," Assad told Al Mayadeen television. The conference has become known as the Geneva 2 conference.

"Many questions about this conference are still on the table."

Moscow unhappy with intention of Friends of Syria Group to discuss Geneva-2 preparations separately

Moscow is opposed to unofficial discussions on the Syrian settlement and is surprised that preparations for the Geneva-2 conference have been declared by the Friends of Syria Group as a being on the agenda of a meeting in London on October 22, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

"We have always aspired when working on Syria to act as a consolidated platform and to avoid various unofficial, separate, to be precise, discussions. The UN Security Council Resolution 2118 passed on September 27 calls for joint work. The fact that the agenda of the meeting mentioned includes preparations for the international conference on Syria, raises questions," the Russian Foreign Ministry quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying in a statement posted on its website.

'Friends of Syria' talks to push peace efforts

Western and Arab powers will meet with Syria's opposition on Tuesday in a bid to push for long-delayed peace talks in Geneva with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The conference in London will bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the nations would "discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the (opposition) Syrian National Coalition and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict."

After a meeting on Sunday in Cairo with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the so-called Geneva 2 talks would be held November 23.

But Brahimi cautioned that the meeting would not be convened without a "credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people" opposed to Assad.

World powers are focusing on a political solution to the war in Syria after Washington dropped plans for US-led strikes in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime.

Russia and Western nations are pushing for new talks between the Syrian regime and rebels on a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since March 2011.

The opposition's Western and Arab backers however are facing resistance from some among the rebels to attending the Geneva 2 talks as long as Assad remains in power.

The opposition Coalition has agreed to attend the London conference, saying it would focus on "these countries' understandings about Geneva 2 and what it should result in".

The peace talks aim to map a path forward towards a political transition in Syria and put in place a transitional government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has led efforts with Moscow to find a political resolution to the war, was returning to Europe for the talks on his 16th trip since taking office in February.

Kerry told National Public Radio the talks in London are aimed at "trying to move the process forward".
"We're working towards this Geneva conference, not that we know what the outcome is," Kerry said.

Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are willing to take part in the Geneva peace talks but not with any preconditions, such as Assad's resignation.

The opposition Coalition is also to hold internal discussions in Istanbul this week that should culminate in a vote on whether to attend the Geneva talks and on the formation of a transitional government.

In a sign of the deep divisions over the Geneva talks, the Syrian National Council, a key member of the Coalition, has already said it opposes the conference and threatened to quit the group if it takes part.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris was working with the opposition ahead of the talks in London on building a united front for the Geneva conference.

"We want the opposition to be united at this conference. It is important that it be united and strong to influence the outcome," he said.

Britain believes the Coalition's fresh leadership, Ahmad Jarba was elected its new chief in July, could make progress on ending internal debates.

London will also be keen at the talks to support moderate elements in the opposition, so Assad cannot present himself as the only alternative to the radical Islamists who have taken on an increasingly prominent role among Syria's rebels.

Syria's close ally Russia, which helped to avert the US-led military action by brokering a deal to dispose of the Assad regime's chemical weapons, is not attending the London meeting.

The "London 11" consists of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Syria peace conference set for November 23 - Arab League chief

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi informed him on Sunday that a keenly anticipated peace conference for Syria will convene in Geneva on November 23.

Arabi acknowledged that there were still obstacles to holding the conference, as Western and Arab governments prepare to meet Syrian opposition leaders on Tuesday to attempt to persuade them to attend.

Arabi made the comment to reporters after meeting the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria at the bloc's Cairo headquarters, on the first leg of a regional tour Brahimi is conducting ahead of the conference.

"It was decided that the Geneva II conference will be held on November 23, and preparations are underway for this conference," Arabi said.

The top Arab diplomat warned, however, that there were still hurdles to convening the already much-delayed meeting.

"There are many difficulties that must be overcome for this conference to succeed," he said.

Brahimi refused to publicly set a date for the conference, saying it would be announced after he concluded his tour.

The envoy told reporters after meeting Arabi that he would travel to Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Syria and then Geneva for talks with Russian and US representatives.

No Syria conference without credible opposition participation - Brahimi

A Syria peace conference scheduled for next month in Geneva cannot be convened in the absence of "credible" opposition representation, international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday.

"The conference will not convene without a credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people opposed (to President Bashar al-Assad)," Brahimi told reporters in Cairo.

Voice of Russia, RIA, Reuters, AFP, Interfax, BBC

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