Syrian government to attend Geneva peace talks

Opposition group, Syrian National Coalition, will also be present but main rebel bloc will boycott the conference

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government insists that the elimination of "terrorism" is the most important issue to address at Geneva.
SANA handout/Reuters

The Syrian government says it will participate in U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the country's civil war, but insists that it is not going to the conference to hand over power. The main Western-backed opposition coalition also confirmed Wednesday they will participate in the talks.

"The colonial era is over," state news agency SANA on Wednesday quoted a Foreign Ministry source as saying, in response to French and British demands that President Bashar al-Assad have no role in a transitional government. "The official Syrian delegation is not going to Geneva to surrender power."

The source said the Syrian delegation to the talks would convey "the wishes of the Syrian people, foremost among them the elimination of terrorism" — a reference to the battle against rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.

The Syrian opposition and its Western supporters have said that Assad cannot be part of a transitional government.

The United Nations announced Monday that the long-delayed peace negotiations will begin Jan. 22. A full list of participants has yet to be decided. The meeting would be the first face-to-face talks between Assad's government and its opponents since the Syrian civil war began nearly three years ago.

Syrian National Coalition, a Western-backed opposition group based in Turkey, announced Wednesday that they will also attend the talks in January.

"We have presented in our last coalition meeting a clear complete vision regarding going to Geneva 2 (the conference), and it was approved with the consensus of the coalition and now we are ready within this spirit to go to Geneva 2," chief of the SNC Ahmad al-Jarba said.

However, SNC holds little weight over rebel groups battling Assad’s forces on the grounds.

The head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said Tuesday that opposition forces loyal to him would not join the peace conference if it allows any possibility of Assad remaining in power.

During a phone interview with Al Jazeera, FSA chief Gen. Salim Idriss said, "We won't go if Geneva doesn't say clearly Assad must go." He also said the rebels will not halt fighting during the conference.

On Wednesday, Turkey and Iran issued a joint statement, according to the Iranian news agency Mehr, calling for a cease-fire in Syria before the planned peace talks.

Syria's civil war is a bloody stalemate estimated to have killed more than 120,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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