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 74.

    Nice try @72.Wu Tang Vs Shaolin Masters
    Unfortunately your comment, although debatable and is highly interesting will be moderated as "off topic".

    We are not on about murderers dressed as"terrorists" in UK but rebels dressed as opponents of regime in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    71 & 27.

    Assad indeed - It will be a sad day for us all if we get involved in this!

  • Comment number 72.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    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.


    Well said. I'll go even further and say that, despite the rhetoric and propaganda from some Western leaders and media, including the BBC, there is also a lot of support for Assad amongst ordinary Westerners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    We shouldn't get involved. The UK has no direct national interest.

    I have got no idea why Hague & the Government support the rebels, this looks so stupid it is suspicious.

    I suspect we are being pressured to do this by the US and Saudi Arabia.

    We should fight nobodies wars for them.

  • Comment number 69.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I think the "moderate" rebels made a tactical error. They should have agreed to attend and demanded a cease fire and a free and fair election supervised by international observers to prevent cheating. In such an election they would easily win. If they didn't get an agreement for such an election it would prove the Syrian government is not legitimate putting even more political pressure on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Negotiations with pre-conditions?

    Never a good start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It wasn't long ago that a topic such as this would garnish 100's of comments. I think today, we are sick & tired of this part of the world, their problems, their laws/religion, their barbarism, etc. etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Islam, the religion of peace.
    Why does it always seem to be right at the heart of any trouble these days?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Didn't they say the same thing a month or two ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Anyone heard the rumour that a massive build up of journalists is taking place on the Syrian border. Some sources are saying that it will probably have no positive effect for the Syrian people or ongoing stability in the area, but it may well result in some form of expense payments and the possibility of honours for the journalists involved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The answer : arm BOTH SIDES with H-Bomb hand grenades and let them fight it out between themselves.

    There will be no losers, no winners and nothing left.

    End of confrontation and peace on what is left of earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    We should have nothing to do with this at all, at most leave it to the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Good news if they can resolve the matter without further fighting. Events in the UK make it imperative that our soldiers are not involved in any way. We cannot send troops and have the police arrest British people who make hostile comments about the enemy, or have them fighting against a background of left wing support for atrocities committed against them. Talks and talks - Jaw Jaw not war war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    What we know is based on what the press writes or televises. Are they right, left, or biased?? What we do know is what we see happening within our own world or neighbourhood. We find it puzzling & frustrating not to have a say about our own lives but are asked about a situation based on media input. More interesting is what we talk about to each other in unlimited characters.

    HYS = not really!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    They are losing, they know they can't win , so like all defeated terrorists, they decide to talk peace


    I don't think Assad forces riding so-called 'terrorists' like Donkeys, is going to help their image as the good guys.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It's not a true negotiation when one side requires its stated objective to happen before they are ready to talk...

    All I want to hear is what the citizens of Syria want. An end to mindless brawling, of course, but it's up to them and them alone to decide who will adminster the country on their behalf.

  • Comment number 56.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Which Syrian opposition groups are willing to negotiate? Doubtful it is the "main" Syrian oppositon coalition at all, just the one that those trying to organise a conference deal with. Also how can any preconditions be set by either side. If one group says anothr's leader stands down first, could not the other request the same.
    Strangely casualty figures shows more Government deaths than rebels.


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