Middle East

Syria crisis: Government 'to attend Geneva conference'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Image caption Russia says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is ready for dialogue

Russia says Damascus has agreed "in principle" to attend an international conference on the Syria crisis set to be held in Geneva in June.

Its foreign ministry said the Syrian government would participate "in order for Syrians themselves to find a political path to a solution".

It follows efforts to get all the sides involved in the peace talks.

Syria's main opposition group entered a second day of talks Friday aimed at finding an approach to the conference.

"We note with satisfaction that we have received an agreement in principle from Damascus to attend the international conference, in the interest of Syrians themselves finding a political path to resolve the conflict, which is ruinous for the nation and region," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

'Commitment to peace'

The international conference, backed by Russia and the US, aims to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria, based on the final communique of the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting in the Swiss city in June 2012.

The communique called for an immediate end to violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under President Bashar al-Assad and members of the opposition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Syrian president on Wednesday that if he was not prepared to make "a commitment to find peace in his country", the US and others would consider increasing backing for his opponents.

"Our understanding [is that] if Geneva 2 were not on the horizon, all we would be looking at is the continued tragic disintegration of the county that will go down further into more violence and more destruction," he added.

On Thursday, the outgoing leader of Syria's main opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib put forward a detailed plan for the transition of power in Syria.

The proposal came at the start of three days of talks in Istanbul aimed at revamping the membership and leadership of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

It stipulates that Mr Assad must leave office, a demand likely to be rejected by Mr Assad and his key backer, Russia. It also calls for Mr Assad and his family to be given a safe exit if he stands down.

The National Coalition demanded on Friday that the Syrian government confirm for itself whether it would be taking part in the international peace conference, the news agency AFP reports.

The UN says that more than 80,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Syrian president began in March 2011. There are 1.5 million refugees taking shelter in neighbouring countries and an estimated 4.25 million internally displaced people.