Monday, 25 November 2013

Syria: Foreign Secretary Welcomes Peace Talks

The Foreign Secretary has said a commitment by the Syrian government and opposition groups to peace talks next year is a "welcome" step forward.

The two sides have agreed to meet in Geneva in January in an attempt to end the civil war that has ravaged the country for almost three years, killing more than 100,000 people.

Sky's Middle East Correspondent Sam Kiley said the starting point for the talks was not a ceasefire but the establishment of "rules and regulations for a political transition".

A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al Assad in the old city of Aleppo
A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards Syrian forces
Britain and other countries have said President Bashar al Assad cannot be allowed to continue in power if a "roadmap" for Syria's political future, agreed at a summit in Geneva last year, is to be implemented.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would lend its "extended and sustained" support to the opposition National Coalition, which he described as "the heart and lead" of forces fighting the Assad regime.

"A negotiated political transition in Syria is the only way to end the conflict and alleviate Syria's humanitarian crisis," he said.

Damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria
Many towns and cities, including Deir al-Zor, have been left in ruins
"The Syrian regime is now in the spotlight. They need to take immediate steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering across the country and stop their brutal tactics, which include besieging and attacking civilian areas.

"In the coming weeks they need to demonstrate that they will go to the Geneva II talks prepared to negotiate a political transition and end the violence."

The UN said the talks, which are due to take place on January 22, would seek to establish "a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities".

Arab and western foreign ministers hold the 'London 11' Friends of Syria meeting
Mr Hague and foreign ministers at a recent Friends of Syria meeting
It called on both sides to go into the meeting with a "serious intention" to end fighting in Syria, which it said had "sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens" on the country's neighbours.

Kiley said the attitude among diplomats was one of "cautious optimism" after previous attempts at negotiations failed.

He said one of the stumbling blocks had been "pre-conditions set by groups of rebels, who said they wanted Mr Assad to agree to end his rule prior to the talks".

"It would appear now that elements, at least, of the rebels have agreed to unconditional talks," he said.

In a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Syria's foreign ministry said that ending support for "armed terrorist groups" in Syria is "crucial for any political solution to the crisis to succeed".

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, added: "We want to have a successful conference and we are not interested in a conference that is going to waste time.

"We are not interested in a conference that is going to justify killing more Syrians."

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