Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Renewed call for Syria peace talks

Leading Western states and Arab powers have urged Syria's moderate opposition to join UN-backed peace talks, warning there could be no military solution to the country's bitter civil war.

After chairing talks in London, Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that finding a solution to the two-and-half year conflict would be "formidably difficult" but insisted that in the end there had to be a political settlement.

The 11-member "core group" of the international Friends of Syria, agreed to put their "united and collective weight" behind the so-called Geneva II talks due to begin next month in Switzerland aimed at forming a new transitional government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he believed the Syria National Coalition - the Western-backed umbrella group representing the moderate opposition forces seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad - would see that it was in its own interest to join the process.

Following the meeting, the coalition president Ahmed Jarba set out a series of "demands" which he said would "facilitate" their entry into the talks, but stopped short of imposing pre-conditions for joining.

The coalition - which remains deeply divided over the issue - is due to meet at the start of next month in Istanbul to decide whether it will participate in the process.

One of the most prominent factions, the Syrian National Council, has said it has no faith in negotiations with the Assad regime and will not take part.

A communique by the "London 11" sought to reassure the coalition that once a transitional government was in place "Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria".

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Jarba, said it had been a "positive" meeting but warned that the coalition was not prepared to sit and negotiate "with Assad possibly there".

He also called for the opening up of humanitarian corridors, the release of detainees and the removal of heavy weapons, as well as making clear the coalition's opposition to any involvement by Iran - one of Assad's last allies in the region - in the process.

Mr Hague said he was under no illusions as to how difficult it would be to reach a settlement in Geneva.

"I don't want to minimise in any way the difficulties and enormous challenges of making a success of Geneva," he said.

"There will have to be a political settlement one day. Will it be formidably difficult to bring about? Yes, it will."

Mr Kerry warned that failure to find a settlement would result in the "implosion of the state of Syria" and urged the coalition to sign up to the talks process.

"I am confident that in the end, the opposition will decide that this is in their best interests," he said.

"You can win at the negotiating table what it may take a long time and a lot of loss of life and a lot of bloodshed and potential destruction to win on the battlefield."

As well as Mr Hague and Mr Kerry, the foreign ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were also present at the talks.

Mr Hague said that, before the talks open in Switzerland, the UK would announce a further package of support for the coalition - including "substantial" non-lethal supplies such as communications, medical and logistical equipment.


From Belfast Telegraph