U.S. urges Syria rebels to attend peace talks, slams government

WASHINGTON Thu Jan 16, 2014 5:49pm EST

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during his news conference at Syrian Donors Conference at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait City January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during his news conference at Syrian Donors Conference at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait City January 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States urged Syria's opposition on Thursday to attend January 22 peace talks and criticized its government for suggesting the meeting should be about fighting terrorism rather than forging a political settlement.

The comments by Secretary of State John Kerry, less than a week before the talks are to begin, suggest some uncertainty by the United States over whether the opposition will show up at the U.N.-hosted conference in Montreux, Switzerland.

The main umbrella opposition body in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, which is riven with internal divisions, will decide on Friday whether it will attend the conference. Syria's centrist internal opposition group, the National Coordination Body, on Thursday said it would not attend.

In a hastily arranged appearance, Kerry also faulted what he called "recent revisionism" about why the peace conference is being held after some three years of civil war in Syria in which more than 100,000 have died and millions have been uprooted.

Kerry said the talks, known informally as "Geneva II" although it is being held in Montreux, were to carry out a 2012 plan calling for a political settlement under which the two sides would together agree on a transitional government.

"For anyone seeking to rewrite this history or to muddy the waters, let me state one more time what Geneva II is about," Kerry said. "It is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition ... governing body with full executive powers established by mutual consent."

The United States has taken the position that "by mutual consent" means that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot take part in any transitional government because his participation would be rejected by the opposition.

MOUALEM LETTER

U.S. officials said Kerry was reacting to a letter from the Syrian government confirming its attendance at the meeting but saying that the government's focus was on fighting "terrorism."

The letter, from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also said the government did not accept all aspects of a U.N. letter inviting it to the peace conference.

A copy of the invitation sent to one of the parties and obtained by Reuters reiterated the goal of the two sides agreeing on a transitional ruling body with full executive powers as laid out in the 2012 "Geneva Communique."

"Confirmation of attendance will be taken as commitment to the aims of the conference ... in accordance with the Geneva Communique, in particular the principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition," the letter of invitation said.

"We do not agree with certain points mentioned in the letter, simply for the reason that they are in conflict with the legal and political position of the State of Syria; nor do they meet the supreme interests of the Syrian people," Moualem wrote.

"It remains as the priority to the Syrian people to continue to fight terrorism ... we also demand the countries supporting terrorism to cease and refrain from funding, training, arming or harboring terrorist groups," it added, in a dig at countries such as Saudi Arabia believed to be arming the Syrian rebels.

Syria sank into civil war after a peaceful street uprising against four decades of Assad family rule began in March 2011. The revolt spiraled into an armed insurgency after the army responded with massive and deadly force to suppress the unrest.

Without mentioning Moualem's letter specifically, Kerry put the blame for the violence on the Syrian government.

"The world needs no reminder that Syria has become the magnet for jihadists and extremists. It is the strongest magnet for terror of any place today," he said. "It defies logic to imagine that those whose brutality created this magnet ... could ever lead Syria away from extremism and toward a better future."

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and Dominic Evans in Beirut; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (12)
Wow what a mess, 10′s of thousands dead and misplaced, I feel sorry for those poor souls. Bashar Assad had always maintained that this is the work of Al Qaida right from the start. We in the west were so taken up by the anti Syrian Bashar propaganda waged by the medias, makes me wonder now in retrospect that they had it wrong all along, Assad was right along with the Russians.
If it was up to the senile McCain (R) we would have entered another war, I guess these war mongering senators need to send their sons, daughters and their grand children to war before anyone else.
The other merchants of death are the Saudis and Arab monarchies barely holding on, supplying weapons to anyone that is NOT SHIA.
This whole situation could envelope the whole of the M.E.

Jan 16, 2014 2:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JamieJR wrote:
Do you have any medical evidence to prove that McCain is senile? If not, then this is simply a case of age discrimination on your part. You’ll get to that point soon enough.

Jan 16, 2014 3:25pm EST  --  Report as abuse
willich6 wrote:
The real issue here is the US has a SecState that nobody, I mean nobody, respects and who cannot deliver. Kerry talks and talks – never delivers anything of substance.. name one thing..
He talks about Israeli-Palistinian peace accord – all these trips – all this noise – nothing happens – except the Israelis openly deride him in the press. The real movement of Israel/Palestine will come from Eqypt and the pressure they put upon Hamas.

Kerry had virtually nothing to do with getting Iran to the table; he was ready to ‘sign’ a worthless document until the French and Germans ‘blew the whistle’ on him.. The french had to save his ass? how low have we sunk… Now he runs around like the architect – what a joke.
Now he’s encouraging the Syrian rebels to come to Geneva – these guys don’t believe a thing he or Obama has to say after the ‘Red Line’ debacle.. No Trust.. The Saudi’s and Russians, and now the Iranians have all the influence here.. Kerry’s just going to Geneva for the ‘Perks’ – another ‘first class’ photo op at our expense.. just like last week in Rome with his ‘tour’ of the Sistine Chapel… now that’s real diplomacy.. The guy’s an empty suit just like his boss..

Jan 16, 2014 4:49pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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