Diplomats gather to salvage Syria peace talks


GENEVA: The United Nations (UN)-Arab League envoy to Syria will meet with senior diplomats in Geneva on Tuesday in a new bid to prepare a long-delayed peace conference amid continued wrangling over who will take part.

Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will first hold talks with Russian deputy foreign ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov and United States (US) Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Tuesday.

Later in the day, the meeting will be broadened to include representatives of the three other permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France and Britain.

The talks in the Swiss city aim to pave the way for a new international conference focused on ending the spiraling 31-month conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes.

Hoping to build on the momentum of a US-Russia accord reached in September to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014, Brahimi has been criss-crossing the region to rally support for the conference, dubbed Geneva II.

But on Monday Syria’s information minister declared that the regime would not take part in the proposed conference if the aim is for the Syrian president to give up power.

“We will not go to Geneva to hand over power as desired by [Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud] al-Faisal and certain opponents abroad,” said Omran al-Zohbi in comments carried by the official SANA news agency.

“President Bashar al-Assad will remain head of state,” he said.

The comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh on Monday to smooth over differences on Syria.

While Kerry reiterated that Washington opposes military intervention to end the bloodshed in Syria, Prince Saud said negotiations “shouldn’t just go on indefinitely,” in reference to the proposed peace conference.



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