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Syrian government says it will attend Geneva talks – but won’t hand over power

Huge hurdles remain for talks scheduled for January in Geneva, with Bashar Al Assad unprepared to cede power and the main opposition group seeking concessions before it will commit.

DAMASCUS // The Syrian government said yesterday it will participate in UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the country’s civil war, but insisted that it is not going to the conference to hand over power.

The United Nations on Monday said the long-delayed talks would start on January 22 in Geneva.

The meeting, which would be the first face-to-face talks between the government of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, and its opponents since the Syrian war began, has raised hopes that a resolution to a conflict that activists say has killed more than 120,000 people could be within reach.

But huge hurdles remain, including a decision on the full list of participants.

The main western-backed Syrian opposition group has said it is ready to attend but wants the government to set up humanitarian corridors and release political prisoners to build confidence before it makes a final decision.

Syria’s foreign ministry yesterday confirmed the government would attend. It said Mr Al Assad would send an official delegation.

The ministry stressed that the representatives would be “going to Geneva not to hand over power to anyone” but to meet with those “who support a political solution for Syria’s future”.

The delegation’s top priority, according to the foreign ministry, would be to eliminate terrorism.

The Syrian opposition and its western supporters insist that Mr Al Assad cannot be part of a transitional government.

In a jab at Britain and France, the foreign ministry said that if Paris and London “insist on holding fast to these illusions” that there is no place for Mr Al Assad in a transitional period, then “there is no need for them to attend Geneva 2”.

Meanwhile, Iran’s top diplomat said yesterday that Tehran and Ankara would press for a ceasefire in Syria ahead of peace talks planned for January.

“All our efforts should be carried out to finish the conflict and reach a ceasefire even before Geneva 2,” said Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, at a Tehran news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

* Agencies

Updated: November 27, 2013 04:00 AM

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