Friends of Syria meet in Rome | News | DW | 28.02.2013
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Friends of Syria meet in Rome

Western and Arab officials are meeting with envoys of the Syrian opposition in Rome. The main opposition National Coalition was convinced to join the talks by Western pledges of assistance.

Thursday's talks center around what kind of support the international community should afford the Syrian opposition.

The "Friends of Syria" group is made up of around 90 countries, which do not include China or Russia.

In a policy shift ahead of the Rome meeting, the United States announced it would provide "non-lethal" aid, such as food and medical supplies to Syrian opposition fighters, but would continue to refuse giving them weapons.

The concessions were made ahead of the "Friends of Syria" meeting when new US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

Kerry, who is on a tour of several European capitals, said in Paris that the Syrian opposition needed "more help" in the fight against Assad and that Washington wanted to speed up the crisis-hit country's political transition.

Germany and Britain made similar statements. Speaking in Berlin on Thursday German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pledged another five million euros in humanitarian aid, increasing German contributions to humanitarian assistance in the Syrian conflict to 118 million euros ($155 million).

"We are doing this as a signal of solidarity with the people in Syria and the refugees in the neighboring countries who are suffering incredible hardship," he said.

The concrete offer of assistance is believed to have led the opposition to take part in the talks, which they had already decided to boycott.

The Rome talks come two days before a meeting of the National Coalition on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkey, where delegates are planning to elect a prime minister and government for the parts of Syria that are no longer controlled by Bashar al-Assad's regime.

French President Francois Hollande expressed confidence a political solution to the Syrian crisis was possible within weeks.

"I think that in the next few weeks we will manage to find a political solution that will stop the conflict from escalating," he told Echo of Moscow radio station ahead of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the two years since fighting began.

rg/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)