Kerry says talks to end Syrian civil war set for Monday
Deadlock remains over Saudi demand to be sole representative of Syrian opposition
US secretary of state John Kerry with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: Asked if he was concerned that a delay might lead to a loss of momentum, Mr Kerry said: “There is not going to be a fundamental delay.” Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images
Asked if he was concerned that a delay might lead to a loss of momentum, Mr Kerry – speaking prior to a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos with Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – said: “When you say a delay, it may be a day or two for invitations, but there is not going to be a fundamental delay.”
While the Syrian government has said it will send UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari to the talks, Mr Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov failed during a meeting on Wednesday to resolve the deadlock caused by the demand of the Saudi-sponsored team to be the sole representative of the Syrian opposition.
Mr Kerry may be able to end the impasse when he meets Saudi leaders in Riyadh tomorrow.
A Russian official has said the talks will go ahead with another delegation if the Riyadh team refuses to attend or does not include members of the “moderate” opposition.
The Saudi insistence on being the sole opposition interlocutor runs counter to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s mandate to invite a wide spectrum of anti-government forces.
The Saudi-backed team, appointed by a council formed in Riyadh last month, is to be headed by rebel Free Syrian Army general Asaad al-Zoubi, who defected from the Syrian air force and now serves in the US-backed Southern Front battling Syrian government troops in Deraa province.
NegotiatorsGeorge SabraNational CoalitionMohamed AlloushArmy of IslamRussiaIran
The Army of Islam, a merger of dozens of radical fundamentalist factions, adheres to the ideology of Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda. It took part in the 2013 massacre of 32 civilians at the industrial town of Adra, and executed Islamic State fighters last year.
Meanwhile, 4,000 residents have returned to their homes in the town of Qadam south of Damascus following a ceasefire and evacuation of Islamic State and al-Qaeda fighters under the government’s “reconciliation” programme.