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Syria ready to join peace conference, Russians say

May 24, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Turkish Muslim protesters wave Free Syria's flags during a demonstration held in front of the Fatih mosque in Istanbul on Friday.
Turkish Muslim protesters wave Free Syria's flags during a demonstration… (Ozan Kose / Agence France-Presse…)

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has agreed “in principle” to participate in a U.S.-Russian sponsored peace conference aimed at ending the violence in Syria, Russia officials said Friday.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow that Assad’s administration had agreed to take part in the session. No precise date has been set, but reports indicate that the sponsors are hopeful of conducting the conference early next month in Geneva.

There was no direct word from Damascus on Friday about its prospective presence at the conference.

Syria’s participation had been expected since Russia, a key organizer of the peace initiative, is a major ally of Assad’s government. Still, many obstacles remain before the conference comes together.

The Syrian opposition has generally expressed wariness about the international initiative. But Assad’s apparent willingness to send a delegation to Geneva would seem to put more pressure on the Syrian opposition to attend.

The U.S.-backed Syrian National Coalition, an exile-based group, has been meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in a bid to hammer out a position on the talks.

The aim of the Geneva conference is to create a transitional government in Syria that could lead to a cessation of hostilities.

Many in the Syrian opposition have said any such talks must lead to Assad’s ouster, a position supported by Washington. But the Syrian government and Russia have said that Assad’s removal from office cannot be a condition for talks.

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