x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Syria peace conference backed by US and Russia set for early June

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, says he expects a proposed Syria peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow to be held in early June.

Syrian troops take control of the village of Western Dumayna, some seven kilometres north of the rebel-held city of Qusayr. The government has recaptured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province, allowing it to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town.
Syrian troops take control of the village of Western Dumayna, some seven kilometres north of the rebel-held city of Qusayr. The government has recaptured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province, allowing it to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town.

STOCKHOLM // John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said yesterday he expected a proposed Syria peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow to be held in early June, and he denied reports that the Damascus government did not plan to attend.

Syria's information minister , Omran Al Zoabi, said earlier in the day that Damascus, fighting an insurgency that threatens to draw in Syria's neighbours, wanted specifics on such a conference before it decides whether to be part of it.

"If he decides not to come to the table, it would be another one of president (Bashar) Al Assad's gross miscalculations," Mr Kerry told reporters during a visit to Sweden to attend a meeting of eight nations with Arctic territory.

Mr Kerry said he has every expectation that both sides in the conflict, which has left more than 70,000 dead, will participate in an international conference to negotiate a peaceful transition in Syria. The conference is noteworthy because it will be endorsed by both the US and Russia, which are on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict.

He said Mr Al Assad's government already has provided names of potential negotiators to Russian officials - a strong signal that the regime is planning to attend the conference. Opposition officials also are planning to attend, Mr Kerry said.

"I keep hearing some people suggest somehow that the process is moving away, not closer," he said. "I just don't agree with that. Enormous plans are being laid."

He said the talks would focus on ensuring that all of Syria's people would be protected in a potential ceasefire.

"If Assad decides not to come, the world will see how empty his rhetoric is as well as his intent," Mr Kerry said.

Mr Al Zoubi said in an interview late Monday with Lebanon's Al-Manar TV, excerpts of which were published yesterday by the Syrian state news agency, the government's participation in the proposed talks "depends on knowing the details and developments." But he stressed that Damascus will not take part in any political dialogue that infringes on the country's sovereignty, and stressed that the president, constitution and the form of political system are among the sovereign matters and will be only decided by the "Syrian people and ballot boxes." "Syria's political decision is clear, which is to go toward a political solution and support positive international efforts while fighting terrorism at the same time," he said. One of the key sticking points in even bringing the sides to the table for talks has been the role of Mr Al Assad in any negotiated transition.

The foreign Ministers of the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - all supporters of the Syrian opposition - back a June 2012 Geneva plan for a transitional government in Syria that does not include the current president and his regime.

"President (Al) Assad, his regime, and his associates with blood on their hands have no place in the future of Syria," said a statement yesterday from the state news agency WAM.

Mr Al Assad's departure has been a demand of the opposition since the revolt started and previous peace initiatives have foundered over the failure to settle on the president's future role.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday for talks on the situation in Syria, amid concerns that Moscow could soon provide Damascus with advanced missiles. Israeli officials have asked Russia to stop what they say is an imminent delivery of Russian S-300 air defence systems to Syria. However, neither leader mentioned the missiles in their brief opening remarks and concluding statements after the talks.

*With additional reports from Reuters