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Published: 10/20/2013

Arab League,U.N. split on date for Syria talks

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIRUT — An international conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war is planned for Nov. 23, the head of the Arab League said Sunday, although the U.N. envoy to Syria said the date has yet to be finalized and that peace talks will not be held “without a credible opposition.”

For months, the United States and Russia have been working to bring the Damascus government and Syria’s divided opposition to Geneva to discuss a political solution to the civil war.

The meeting has been repeatedly postponed.

Even now it remains unclear whether either side is really willing to negotiate while the conflict, now in its third year, remains deadlocked.

The main Western-backed opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, is scheduled to meet Nov. 1 to decide whether to attend the proposed Geneva conference.

Many rebel fighters on the ground refuse to negotiate with the regime. The government, meanwhile, has refused to talk with the armed opposition.

Speaking in Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said the Geneva conference would be held on Nov. 23. He added that “many difficulties” face the proposed peace talks, but stressed that “it’s time that the killings and the bloodshed stopped.”

The Arab League-U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, struck a more cautious tone and emphasized that the timing of the conference is not yet set.

He said he must first visit Qatar and Turkey — two key supporters of the rebellion — and then meet with U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva before a final date will be announced.

On the key issue of who will take part in the talks, Mr. Brahimi said the negotiations “will not be held without a credible opposition, representing an important part of opposition within Syrian people.”

But at the same time, he said: “It is not important that all — either armed or non-armed opposition — join in the meeting as those who won’t participate will be included in Geneva 2 subsequent phase.”

In the past, the coalition has said that it will only negotiate if it is agreed from the start that Assad will leave power before the transition period can begin.

The regime has rejected demands for Assad to leave.



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