Syria peace talks could take place in July

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PARIS: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday that a peace conference on Syria in Geneva could take place in July, later than previously expected.

Amid desperate diplomatic efforts to bring Syria’s regime and opposition to the table for talks, Fabius said it was unlikely the conference would take place this month as hoped.

“‘Geneva 2’ is in my opinion a last-chance conference. I hope it will take place, I think it could take place in July,” Fabius told French radio and television.

He said that time was “too short” for the conference to be held in June as originally planned.

“The opposition needs to designate its representatives, it will take some time, we must agree on the agenda,” Fabius said on Europe 1 radio and I-Tele television.

Russia and the United States have been pushing hard for the regime and opposition to come together for the talks—dubbed “Geneva 2” because they aim to build on a peace initiative held in the Swiss city in June last year.

The talks last year brought together top diplomats from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain—and representatives of Turkey, the Arab League and the European Union.

Diplomatic sources say participants are struggling to agree on the basic principles of the proposed new talks and on who would take part.

Meanwhile, Syria’s divided opposition group officially expanded to include 43 new members, after eight days of meetings marred by internal bickering and international pressure.

The total number of National Coalition members is now 114, acting chief George Sabra told reporters, adding that the general assembly was now finished.

Among the new Coalition seats are “15 from the [rebel Free Syrian Army’s]Chief of Staff, 14 members of the revolutionary movements inside Syria and 14 others,” said Sabra.

He welcomed the FSA and the activist movements’ entrance into the group, adding that “they are the guarantors of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad.

Twenty-nine of the group’s seats have yet to be filled. The FSA’s seats will go to civilian members of the rebel army, officials said.

Despite extending what was scheduled to be a three-day meeting, the group has failed to agree on a new president and an interim rebel government.

Though Sabra’s interim mandate has expired, the election of a president has been postponed till “no later than June 12,” said group spokesman Khaled al-Saleh.

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