The United Nations has set a date for talks between the Syrian government and opposition, in an attempt to push through the first such meeting since the start of the country’s 32-month-old war, but fears remain the opposition’s insistence of Assad’s removal from power as precondition may stall the peace process.
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said on Monday that the conference, to be held in Geneva on January 22, was “a mission of hope” to end the civil war and agree a transitional government “with full executive powers”.
However Laui Safi, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said shortly after the announcement that the group would only attend if the Syrian regime met its preconditions: the release of prisoners and relief for besieged towns, and that the current president, Bashar al-Assad, has no part to play in the new transitional government.
The SNC has also said it would need the support of all rebel brigades on the ground, including al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, before it began peace talks.
These conditions indicate setting a date was no guarantee that talks would go ahead, as it seems a date for talks was announced more out of frustration than a clear plan.
The announcement was made after talks between the UN’s peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Russian and US diplomats on Monday in Geneva.
The UN said the Geneva talks would be international, but it was not clear from Ban’s statement whether Iran would be invited. He said he expected “all regional and international partners to demonstrate their meaningful support for constructive negotiations”.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky added: “The secretary general expects that the Syrian representatives will come to Geneva with a clear understanding that this is the objective, and with a serious intention to end a war that has already left well over 100,000 dead, driven almost nine million from their homes, left countless missing and detained, sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens on Syria’s neighbours.”