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Syrian peace talks stalled as opposition groups split

Updated: 2013-11-06 16:13
( Xinhua)

Syrian peace talks stalled as opposition groups split

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Nov 5, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

BEIJING -- The tripartite meeting of the UN, Russia and the United States failed to set a date for the long-delayed Syria peace talks in Geneva, UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Tuesday.

"We were hoping that we would be in a position to announce a date today. Unfortunately, we have not," he told a press conference.

The statement followed a series of meetings with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and delegates from the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as Syria's neighbors.

"We are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year," he said.

The intention of the conference, dubbed Geneva II, was to gather all Syrian parties, including the government and the opposition, and there were hopes a date would be set for later this month.

While Damascus said it was ready to embark on negotiations with the opposition in the talks, the Western-backed opposition remained divided over its participation.

Buthaina Shabaan, President Bashar al-Assad's media advisor, told RT TV Tuesday that the "Syrian government said from the beginning it was going to Geneva without preconditions."

The government is clear that it supports the conference as a way to hammer out a political solution to the long-standing conflict without foreign tutelage, said the advisor.

Compared with the readiness of the Syrian government, the opposition, as Brahimi stated, was having "a very very difficult time" and "working very very hard to get ready".

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group in exile, threw a spanner in the works on Sunday, stating that it would not attend talks unless a strict timetable for Assad to leave power was put in place.

At an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo, SNC's Riyadh-backed president, Ahmad Jarba, firmly stated Sunday that his group would also not attend the conference if Iran is invited.

Resistance from opposition groups like SNC has forced the three parties to hold another preparatory meeting on November 25. However, the postponement of the much-anticipated conference infuriated some Syria-based political opposition groups, such as the National Coordination Body (NCB), which backs the conference as a way to stop the bloodshed in the country.

Rajaa al-Nasser, a leading member of the NCB, told Xinhua Tuesday that "any delay, even for one day, means shedding more blood and a true defeat to the will of the Syrians who want to end the tragic situation in their country."

Taking a swipe at the exiled opposition, al-Nasser said the SNC wants to achieve balance on the ground before participating in the conference, which would lead to more destruction and loss in Syria.

The preconditions laid out by the SNC also drew criticism from Russia, a staunch ally of Assad and a convener of the Geneva II conference.

Calling the demands "unalloyed provocation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that while Assad had repeatedly confirmed readiness for the conference, the international community has heard nothing but more preconditions from the opposition.

"If it is made to provoke (Assad's) regime for setting its own preconditions, this is an unalloyed provocation," he said.

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