International and regional powers have failed to agree on a date for Syria peace conference. Russia’s desire for Iran to be invited, and US opposition to the idea, appears to have been the main stumbling block.
The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Lakhtar Brahimi, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that while he had failed so far to convince the US, Russia, and other powers to agree on a date for a peace conference to be held in the Swiss city, he was determined to press on with his efforts.
"We were hoping that we'd be in a position to announce a date today, unfortunately we're not," Brahimi said. "But we're still hoping that we'll be able to have the conference before the end of the year," he added.
Also included in Tuesday's talks were the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain, France and China, as well as the Arab League, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Despite Brahimi's determination to help Russia and the US resolve their differences over the participation of Iran, there appeared to be little sign that either side was prepared to compromise on its position. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed to reporters in Moscow that the Kremlin was sticking to its demand that Iran be invited to the peace conference, dubbed Geneva II.
Not only is this idea opposed by the United States, but the Syrian opposition have also said they don't want the Iranians at the table. Additionally, the opposition have said they wouldn't attend unless President Bashar al-Assad first agrees to leave office. However, a Syrian cabinet minister reiterated on Tuesday that this would not happen.
"President Bashar al-Assad will remain head of state," the official SANA news agency quoted Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi as saying.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, indicated that by agreeing to attend the peace talks, the Syrian government had effectively agreed to step aside. Kerry said it had been agreed that one of the key aims of Geneva II would be to appoint a transitional government that was acceptable to both Assad's regime and the opposition.
"I don't know how anybody believes the opposition is going to give mutual consent to Assad to continue," Kerry told reporters during a visit to Warsaw. He also urged the Assad regime to "live up to its obligation to come to Geneva to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria."
Brahimi, who has said the participation of the opposition is vital to any peace conference, is to hold further talks on November 25.
According to United Nations estimates,more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when the uprising against the Assad regime began with peaceful demonstrations demanding political reforms before escalating into civil war.
pfd/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)