Syria Agrees To Be Part Of Geneva Peace Talks

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Houla

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Muallem has said that his government will take part in a peace conference in Geneva, terming it a “good opportunity for a political solution” to the civil war in Syria.

He also praised an Iraqi army operation against Sunni armed groups near the border with Syria, during a surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had agreed “in principle to participate in the international conference which is supposed to be convened in Geneva” in June, Muallem said.

“We think… that the international conference represents a good opportunity for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.”

An opposition spokesman reiterated the National Coalition’s position that any settlement must exclude Assad.

“We are ready to enter into negotiations that are aimed towards transferring power to the people, towards a democratic transition. And that of course means Assad cannot be a part of Syria in the future,” Louay Safi told reporters.

Meeting in Istanbul since Thursday, the deeply divided Coalition has yet to reach an official position on the US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2.

“In principle, our position was to welcome the international [peace] initiative,” Safi said.

But “the regime has yet to state a position on its willingness to leave” power, he added.

Muallem also took a swipe at countries supporting rebels who are locked in a bloody civil war with Assad’s regime, saying that “the regional countries that conspire against Syria are the same that support terrorism in Iraq.”

Moscow, a key all of Assad, said earlier in the week that Damascus had agreed ‘in principle’ to take part in the conference.

An exact date for the conference has not been set yet because of what Moscow described as a lack of unity among Syria’s opposition.

Officials in the main opposition Syrian National Coalition have signalled readiness to attend the conference, but said they first wanted guarantees that Assad would step down eventually.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry are due to meet in Paris on Monday for further talks regarding Syria.

Washington and Moscow unveiled earlier this month a plan to bring both Damascus and the opposition to the table to negotiate an end to the country’s 26-month conflict, which the United Nations estimates has left at least 80,000 people dead.

The negotiating may hit a deadlock however, as the Syrian National Coalition is head bent on agreeing to a peace deal only if Assad would eventually step down, a situation the regime is not considering for now.