* Syrian opposition to shun talks unless goal is Assad exit
* Confident Assad talks of running for re-election next year
* S.Arabia plans to halt cooperation with US on Syria
By Arshad Mohammed and Peter Griffiths
LONDON, Oct 22 Syria's opposition in exile
resisted calls from Western and Arab countries on Tuesday to
commit to attending peace talks, saying they would not take part
if there was any chance President Bashar al-Assad could cling to
Eleven countries meeting in London pressed the opposition
National Coalition to join talks to end a conflict that has
killed over 100,000 people, but the group listed conditions and
said it would decide in the coming weeks whether to attend.
"There will not be any negotiations at all without making
sure that the Geneva 2 meeting is basically for the transitional
period and for Assad to go," National Coalition chief Ahmed
Jarba told a news conference after the London meeting.
"We are not going to sit and negotiate with Assad possibly
being there," he said. "Our people would not accept that. They
will consider us as traitors if we came here to sell our
However, Jarba did not explicitly rule out joining the talks
and said his group would meet soon, possibly in Istanbul on Nov.
1, to vote on whether to attend Geneva 2.
The United States and Russia said in May they would convene
a "Geneva 2" peace conference in which both sides would agree a
transitional political set-up to end the war, but it faces huge
obstacles and no firm date has been set.
A communique from Monday's meeting said Geneva 2 would aim
to establish a transitional government by which time "Assad and
his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role
In the latest indication that Assad feels his position is
tenable, he said on Monday he saw no reason why he should not
run for re-election next year.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, hosting Egypt,
France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the
United Arab Emirates and the United States, said it was vital
that the Western-backed Syrian opposition join the talks.
"We urge the National Coalition to commit itself fully and
to lead and form the heart of any opposition delegation to
Geneva," he told a news conference.
Many of the mostly Islamist rebels fighting in Syria refuse
to recognise the exiled opposition favoured by the West.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks were the only
possible way to end the war.
"This war will not come to an end on the battlefield ... it
will come to an end through a negotiated settlement," he said.
"The only alternative to a negotiated settlement is continued,
if not increased, killing."
But efforts to present a united front suffered a further
setback when it emerged that Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief
had said the kingdom would make a "major shift" in relations
with the United States in protest at its perceived inaction over
Syria and its overtures to Iran.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan has told European diplomats that
Washington had failed to act on Syria and other Middle Eastern
issues, according to a source close to Saudi policy. "The shift
away from the U.S. is a major one," the source said.
There would be no further coordination with the United
States over the war in Syria, where the Saudis have armed and
financed rebel groups fighting Assad, the source said.
Saudi anger boiled over after Washington refrained from
military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus
in August when Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.
Kerry said the Saudis were "obviously disappointed" that the
strike on Syria did not take place.
He said President Barack Obama had asked to him to talk to
Saudi officials, which he described as "very, very constructive
and I am convinced we are on the same page as we are proceeding
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about signs of a tentative
reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, the Saudis' old
enemy, which may be invited to Geneva.
Saudi Arabia and the United States shared deep concern about
Iran's nuclear programme, Kerry said, adding: "I reaffirmed
President Obama's commitment that he will not allow Iran to have
a nuclear weapon."
Kerry met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris on
Monday regarding Iran.
"I reiterated our position - in any negotiation (with Iran)
- that our eyes are wide open, actions are what will speak to
us, not words, and no deal is better than a bad deal," Kerry
Hague said if Iran were to attend Geneva 2, it must support
a proposed interim government as the way to political dialogue
and free elections.
"If Iran could start from that position as well as the rest
of us, then Iran would be more easily included in international
discussions on the subject," he said.
Several officials, including Arab League chief Nabil
Elaraby, have said they expect the Geneva 2 conference to
convene on Nov. 23, though the United States, Russia and the
United Nations have all said no date has been officially set.