MOSCOW: International peace talks on the Syria conflict could take place next month, a top Syrian official said on Thursday, claiming the long-awaited conference was closer than ever to taking place.
Asked at a press conference in Moscow if the talks have been pushed back to late November or early December, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said they could take place “November 23 to 24.”
Russia and Western nations led by the United States have been pushing the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to meet to try to hammer out a negotiated solution to the two-and-half-year-old conflict, which has killed about 115,000 people.
The conference, dubbed Geneva-2, was first mooted by the United States and Russia in May but has been repeatedly put off.
“We are closer than ever to holding the Geneva-2,” Jamil told reporters after talks at the Russian foreign ministry, but added that the timeframe for the conference was “hypothetical.”
He said there was “no alternative” to the peace conference.
“Today no aspect of the Syrian crisis can be solved without it,” he said in remarks translated from Arabic into Russian, adding the talks had to put an end to “foreign interference” in the conflict.
“This will lead to the launch of a political process and cessation of violence.”
“We cannot say ‘open sesame’ so that the political process would immediately start.”
However, the head of the Syrian National Council, the largest member of the opposition National Coalition, said at the weekend his group would not attend the talks.
Jamil said the group’s stance would not affect the plans for the conference.
“The refusal of the Syrian National Coalition to participate in the Geneva-2 will not influence the conference’s timeframe and format,” he was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency. “They are likely to reconsider.”
Meanwhile, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that it had completed nearly half its inspections of Syria’s arsenal with a view to its destruction by mid-2014.
“We have done nearly 50 percent of the verification work of the facilities that have been declared to us,” Malik Ellahi, a political advisor on Syria for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told journalists in The Hague.
Despite the progress, Ellahi said security remained a concern for the unprecedented mission in war-torn Syria, with mortar and car bomb attacks around the inspectors’ Damascus hotel.
“One of the things that is of concern is of course the security situation,” said Ellahi, who advises OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu.
“There have been a number of incidents over the last few days which gives some cause for concern.”
The OPCW said on Wednesday that its inspectors had checked 11 out of 20 sites identified by Damascus and destroyed chemical weapons equipment at six sites.