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Questions over Geneva talks

October 22, 2013

Arab and Western foreign ministers have urged the Syrian opposition to attend Geneva peace talks next month. Those talks may be in jeopardy over disagreements on the role of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

From (L-R front row) Foreign Ministers of France Laurent Fabius, Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal, Britain William Hague, US John Kerry and Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu, (Back L-R) Egyptian deputy foreign minister Egypt Hamdi Sanad Loza, German State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office Emily Haber, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah and Italy's deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli pose for a group photograph before holding the "London 11" meeting from the Friends of Syria Core Group at Lancaster House in London on October 22, 2013. . Arab and Western powers met in London Tuesday to push Syrian oppsition leaders to attend talks in Geneva next month, but President Bashar al-Assad poured cold water on hopes of any peace deal. AFP PHOTO/OLI SCRAFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

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Foreign ministers from Arab and Western nations said in London on Tuesday that the Syrian opposition's attendance at November 23 peace talks in Geneva was "the best hope to improve their lives."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the 11-member Friends of Syria group had agreed to "a number of important steps," including that the Geneva talks "must lead to the establishing by mutual consent of a transitional governing body."

He added that President Bashar al-Assad should not be part of a future Syrian government, though he did not echo the position of some opposition factions who say that al-Assad's government should not take part in negotiations.

"By definition mutual consent means it can only be agreed with the consent of the Syrian National Coalition – so Assad would play no role in that future government," Hague said. "We urged the National Coalition to commit itself to the Geneva II process and to lead and form the heart of any opposition delegation."

Hague was joined in London by his counterparts from Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Russia, a strong ally of Syrian President al-Assad's government, did not attend the London talks. Moscow has previously said that such talks do not represent all Syrian people.

Disagreements over role of al-Assad

The Syrian National Council had previously expressed its opposition to the Geneva conference and threatened to quit the overarching Syrian National Coalition organization if representatives from al-Assad's government took part.

"The Sultan must leave," Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Jarba said in the text of a speech to the meeting.

"Geneva cannot succeed and we cannot take part if it allows Assad to gain more time to spill the blood of our people while the world looks on," Jarba said.

At a press conference after the London meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed to reporters that the intention was not to assure al-Assad left office before negotiation began, but rather that the negotiations pave the way for a Syria without the controversial president in power.

That view that does not appear to be shared by al-Assad himself. In a recent interview with Lebanon-based pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, al-Assad said he had no plans to vacate the presidency.

"Personally, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't run in the next election," he said.

No military solution

Kerry added that he believed the crisis in Syria had not been resolved with the al-Assad regime's agreement earlier this year to give up its chemical weapons arsenal, but that a diplomatic solution was the only way forward.

"I don't know anybody including the Russians and others in the region who are not part of the support group who believe that there is a military solution to this conflict," Kerry said.

"It is clear that both sides will continue to fight and to fight and to fight, and in the end the greatest victims the people who suffer the most are the Syrian people themselves who are being driven from their homes, who are being killed in the most wanton violence, and are having an increasingly profound impact on the surrounding countries."

In Syria's more than 2 years of civil war, more than 100,000 people have been killed and several million more displaced.

dr/ipj (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)