Syria agrees to attend international peace conference, Russia says

A member of the National Coalition of Syrian Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib gestures in a corridor before attending a meeting on 23 May 2013 in Istanbul. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

Published Friday, May 24, 2013

Updated at 12:38 pm The Syrian government had agreed in principle to attend an international peace conference proposed by Russia and the United States, Russia said on Friday, and criticized what it called attempts to undermine peace efforts.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in televised remarks on Friday that the Syrian government had "agreed in principle" to participate in the conference in Geneva which is expected within two weeks.

"Damascus has expressed its readiness in principle to participate in the international conference in order for Syrians themselves to find a political path to a solution," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Some European media have reported that the meeting has been already tentatively scheduled for June 10, with the focus on ending the 26 months of bloodshed.

Lukashevich, however, said that it is impossible to set the date for the conference at this point because there is "no clarity about who will speak on behalf of the opposition and what powers they will have." Opposition groups are opposed to Assad's representatives taking part.

Lukashevich also said Moscow "was not encouraged" by the results of recent meetings of members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

Lukashevich condemned some opposition leaders for declaring that no talks were possible with Assad still in power.

The SNC stated Wednesday that "the announcement is still very vague. And why is it not made by Damascus?"

"We would like to hear that statement from the Assad government. This has been related to us through the Russians, I have no idea why the Syrians are silent," Louay Safi, spokesman for the National Coalition, told AFP at a meeting of the main Syrian opposition group in Istanbul.

Syria's main opposition group entered a second day of talks in Istanbul on Friday aimed at finding a joint approach to what has already been been dubbed as the "Geneva 2" conference.

Since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, the United Nations estimates that more than 80,000 people have been killed in the spiraling fighting between Assad's government and the rebels battling to overthrow it.

(Reuters, AFP, AP)

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