Syrian opposition urged to attend Geneva peace talks

Hague says al-Assad can have no role in a future Syrian government

Foreign ministers conduct a meeting of the ‘London 11’, from the Friends of Syria Core Group, in Lancaster House, London. Photograph: Oli Scarff/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Foreign ministers conduct a meeting of the ‘London 11’, from the Friends of Syria Core Group, in Lancaster House, London. Photograph: Oli Scarff/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 23:09

The Syrian opposition yesterday refused to commit fully to proposed peace talks scheduled for the end of next month in Geneva in spite of the efforts of western and Arab backers to secure such a commitment.

Speaking as 11 Arab and western foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group concluded their gathering in London, British foreign secretary William Hague attempted to reassure the opposition that president Bashar al-Assad would have no role in the future Syrian government, its chief demand.

The Friends of Syria group comprises Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.


Choice
Mr Hague warned the opposition had to have a role in the peace negotiations because if it did not the Syrian people would be left with a choice “between Assad and extremists”.

“The longer this conflict goes on the more sectarian it becomes. That’s why we’re making a renewed effort” to convene the conference, he said.

Addressing the divided and dysfunctional opposition, US secretary of state John Kerry said: “You can win at the negotiating table what it may take a long time and [great] loss of life to win on the battlefield.

“The only alternative to a negotiated settlement is continued if not increased killing . . . the state of war will simply lead to the implosion of the state of Syria.”

He made it clear that the object of the conference was to form a mutually agreed transitional government with full executive powers that would not include Mr Assad because the opposition would veto his participation.

Mr Kerry pledged to increase aid to the expatriate opposition National Coalition, as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people”, and to funnel assistance to the military council headed by Gen Selim Idriss with the aim of countering extremists and altering the situation on the ground.


‘No military solution’
However, he argued that there could be “no military solution” to the conflict and that the Geneva peace conference must be convened “as soon as possible.” He urged the coalition “to come together,” develop “a strong unified position,” and negotiate effectively at Geneva.

While Mr Kerry said he could not speak for the opposition — which is due to meet next week to decide whether to attend the Geneva talks — he said it was in “their best interests” to take part.

However, coalition chief Ahmad Jarba was not forthcoming. He expressed disappointment over the failure of the international community to give the opposition the support he said it needed and he put forward several conditions for attending the Geneva event.

He called for opening humanitarian corridors to besieged areas, freeing of prisoners, removal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, and a timetable for talks.

Any deal should be placed under chapter seven of the United Nations charter mandating the imposition of sanctions or use of force to guarantee implementation, he said.

Mr Assad has also adopted a hard line, saying: “No time has been set [for a deal], and the factors are not yet in place if we want to succeed.”