The London 11 – the core group of the Friends of Syria – will meet on Tuesday with the Syrian opposition in London. This will be followed by peace talks in Geneva with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime on November 23.
Western and Arab powers will meet with Syria's opposition in London on Tuesday to prepare for a long-delayed peace conference in Geneva next month with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Envoys for the Syrian opposition will hold talks with the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria. It will include diplomats from the United States, France and Saudi Arabia.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the nations would "discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the [opposition] Syrian National Coalition and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict".
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi announced after meeting in Cairo on Sunday that the talks, dubbed Geneva 2, would be held on November 23.
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The Geneva talks aim to plan a political transition in Syria and establish a transitional government to bring an end to the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since it erupted in March of 2011.
But Brahimi cautioned that the meeting would not be convened without a "credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people". The lack of a strong, unified opposition has been a persistent obstacle to any talk of replacing the Assad regime.
But some rebel factions are opposed to attending the Geneva 2 talks as long as Assad remains in power.
Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are willing to take part in the Geneva peace talks, but not with any preconditions such as Assad's resignation.
Western powers are also looking for a way to bolster the more moderate elements of the opposition so that Assad can no longer claim to be the only alternative to radical Islamists, who have taken on an increasingly prominent role among Syria's rebels in some areas.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has said it would attend the Geneva 2 peace conference if it aims to set up a transitional government with full powers, the coalition's president, Ahmad Jarba, said in a letter to the UN Security Council last month.
But in a sign of the deep divisions that still plague the opposition, the Syrian National Council – the largest single member of the SNC – has already said it opposes the Geneva conference and has threatened to quit the coalition if it takes part.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris was working with elements of the Syrian opposition to find common ground ahead of the London talks.
"We want the opposition to be united at this conference,” Nadal said. “It is important that it be united and strong in order to influence the outcome.”
The London 11 consists of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Syria's close ally Russia, which has joined Western nations in pushing for a new round of talks between Damascus and the rebel opposition, will not attend the London meeting.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-10-20