US hesitates commitment by Syria opposition to talks

US hesitates commitment by Syria opposition to talks
Thu Oct 24, 2013 12:44:13

US Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged that leaders of Syria’s US-backed opposition have not committed to negotiate with the Syrian government.

Kerry also acknowledged that a UN peace conference may not take place as planned next month, although he said he thinks it should. And he said that despite the US view that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave office, his political fate would be a matter for the two sides in negotiations.

“That’s for the parties to negotiate. That’s not for us to predetermine,” Kerry said.

The United States and Russia have proposed a framework for talks that would set as a goal for the establishment of a transitional government, which the Obama administration has long said would not include Assad.

But such an agreement appears to be a long shot, despite a heavy diplomatic push by the United States, Russia and the United Nations over the past month.

For starters, the US-backed opposition bloc has lost political ground as Western- and Arab-backed militants have lost ground on the battlefield. Neither side appears to have the military strength to defeat the other, offering the grim prospect of many more months of killing in a conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 people.

The militants and opposition figures remain reluctant to negotiate from a weakened position and have resisted pressure to quickly schedule the peace conference in Switzerland. It was unclear after Tuesday’s talks whether the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, would attend talks in Geneva as a united front.

“We do not have the right to make the decision for other players,” Kerry said Monday, after meetings in London with a group of nations promoting talks. “They’re independent, and they have to exercise their own rights here.”

Kerry’s sober assessment made clear that it is more important for the two sides to begin talking, even if the result of those talks is out of US hands.

“It will never be easy. I don’t want to suggest to anybody here that just because everybody says yes and you have the conference and you go to the meeting that this is going to be easy,” Kerry said. “It’s not. But it is far better to be at that table, working diplomatically.”

Kerry met with foreign ministers from the “London 11” — a core group from the so-called Friends of Syria group consisting of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — and with senior Syrian opposition leaders.


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