Syria conflict: Opposition willing to attend talks

Moaz al-Khatib (left) speaks during a meeting of the National Coalition in Istanbul (23 May 2013) Members of the National Coalition are meeting in Istanbul to elect a new leader

The main Syrian opposition coalition has said it is willing to attend an international peace conference expected to take place in Geneva next month.

But a spokesman for the National Coalition, Louay Safi, told the BBC that it would only go if President Bashar al-Assad agreed to step down.

Earlier, Russia said the government had agreed "in principle" to participate.

Previous efforts to find a political solution to the conflict have foundered on preconditions from both sides.

Meanwhile there has been further heavy fighting in Qusair, a strategically important town between Homs and the Lebanese border.

Government forces backed by Hezbollah militants launched an offensive to recapture Qusair on Sunday. The state news agency said on Friday a "large number" of rebel fighters had been killed in the latest clashes.


Russia and the US are attempting to convene a conference to negotiate an end to the violence, but have yet to finalise the date, agenda, timetable or participants.

However, they have said any agreement should be based on the final communique of the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting in Geneva in June 2012.

Start Quote

We would like to find a political solution, but we don't want to be deceived again by this regime”

End Quote Louay Safi National Coalition spokesman

The communique called for an immediate end to violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under Mr Assad and members of the opposition. It did not state explicitly that the president should step down.

Russia has been pressing the Syrian government to agree to dialogue, and foreign ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich announced: "We note with satisfaction that Damascus has confirmed its readiness in principle to participate in an international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to a settlement of the conflict that has been devastating for the country and the region."

The US has meanwhile focused on securing the participation of the opposition National Coalition, which responded sceptically to the Russian announcement.

"We were surprised that this announcement was made in Moscow, not in Damascus," Mr Safi told the BBC. "The first reaction is that we would like to hear it from the Syrian government."

Speaking during a three-day opposition meeting in Istanbul, Mr Safi said the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces would be willing to participate in the conference, but only if President Assad and his associates hand over power as part of any settlement.

"If the government will agree to the framework, yes [we will be there]. We have welcomed the Geneva agreement from day one. We would like to find a political solution. But we don't want to be deceived again by this regime, which has deceived us many times."

Russia has said the president should be allowed to stay in power, arguing that his presence would stabilise any transition. Mr Assad has meanwhile repeatedly insisted that he has no intention of standing down and plans to stand in next year's presidential election.

Members of the National Coalition are meeting in Istanbul to elect a new leader to replace Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib and formulate its positions before the Geneva conference.

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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Will the end of Alawite rule in Syria mean the cutoff of Iran's land conduit to ship weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon? At least something good will come of it.At this point it seems the end of Alawite rule is inevitable as the Sunni will likely fight for as long as it takes no matter how many die.Will they replace one oppressive dictatorship with another?That seems to be the way in some cultures.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Peace at the price of prestige. The Syrian coalition Opposition has set a ticklish condition of Prez Assad stepping down before engaging in any peace talks is perfunctory and preposterous. The Opposition is not serious on real peace as it has made it a prestige issue. Assad will not yield to such pressure tactics by the opposition as it will amount to relinquishing his office and accepting defeat.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Another smashed, trashed Mideast country from the look of video reports.Hard to see how the minority Shia related Alawites can win in the long run but what will be left for the Sunni after it's over and who will pay the huge cost to rebuild the shattered infrastructure after they're done having at each other?I certainly don't want any of my tax dollars going there to pay for their self destruction

  • Comment number 29.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I am sure that many of the original protestors are regretting letting foreign jihadists hijack their "revolution". But it is now far too late.

    It's obvious now that the only chance for stability is to back Assad to the hilt and eject all Western backed Salafist terrorists from Syria. There is quite simply no other option for those who want to save Syrian society, history and civilisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    If the negotiations are to be truely democratic they have to include President Assad as the president still has alot of support amoungst the Syrian population.

    As much as the US and UK want to force regime change in Syria, this will not end the violence if it is not inclusive of all the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    History tells us that Civil Wars, especially those based heavily on sectarian division, can really only end in a country's partition! I feel desperately sorry for the people of Syria who, as the death and destruction increases, will be drawn ever deeper into a conflict with no 'winner' except the basest parts of human nature that causes man to inflict terrible pain and sorrow on their neighbour!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Looks like it's about time for the big long awaited shootout between Iran and Saudi Arabia to begin.Syria is the first real battleground but it won't be the last.Will the US or Russia become involved militarily on opposite sides?Let's hope not.But Iran looms large as a threat to the US as well as to regional and world peace.The conflict between Sunni and Shia points to a specific form of insanity

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    First question:

    Are sunnies or shiia right?

    Second question:

    Are Russian arms better than US?

    Third question:

    Allready answered- Lets blame the Jews.

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    bloggers ranting about Assad regime being a minority sect would do well to reflect on western govt support for Gulf state rulers who also happens to be minority tribes.

    oh, it happens that gulf state & Saudi govts are western-govt-friendly, a view NOT shared by their subjects.

    Put these factors with media bias, bloggers racism, US-superiority complex, oil&gas priority, & we'll have another war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I believe even VPutin by now sees there is no point in keeping Assad in power. By any measure, the mess began on his watch & Assad failed. For negotiating purposes, the appearance of Assad "participating" will be kept (as much to save face for R+C as anything), but behind the scenes if all the key powers put MassivePressure on Assad to leave (including financial pressure, not "incentives) he will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    You are not winning the battle, you do not get to set the preconditions

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    now the armed military opposition wants to talk, whoever they are, no secret from the start that it wasn't coherent nor united.

    I recall very distinctly that BBC & western/US media portrayed the opposition as some heroic underdog, all "news reports" were gunning against Assad regime; US, UK & France govt & bloggers all whipping up a frenzy against Syria, Russia & China.

    not so keen now eh?...

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Terrorist willing to negotiate, oh well that is nice of them! So long as everyone does as they say. Presumably also conditional on them getting everything they want, taking over from the real government.

    How about we wait and congratulate 'terrorist willing to capitulate and apologise' for all the murders their insurrection has caused, if the government agrees not to execute them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Leader of Hezbollah:

    " It is an open war against Israel and until the death of the last Jew on earth"

    They are of the same mentality as the psycho's running Gaza!

    How is anyone supposed to negotiate with such insanity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Nicolas Travers
    How can the Syrian opposition claim to be to be ready to attend the planned Geneva conference if it seeks to impose prior conditions


    Maybe they've learned from the Palestinians who have set out three separate major pre-conditions before meeting for peace talks and still somehow get support for this ludicrous position.

  • Comment number 15.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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