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U.S. Presses Syrian Opposition to Join in Peace Talks

The U.S. increased pressure on the fractious Syrian opposition coalition to attend peace talks in Switzerland next week, as Russia accused the rebel alliance of squabbling and indecision.

As U.S. officials tried to avert a collapse of talks due to begin in Montreux on Jan. 22, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem had agreed a unified position.

“Internal squabbles between different groups of the coalition, which are supported by various external sponsors,” explain the opposition’s delay in announcing whether it will participate in the so-called Geneva II talks, Lavrov said.

In an effort to heal its internal rifts, the main opposition alliance meets in Istanbul today, and may take a final call on joining negotiations with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since it began in 2011. After opening in Montreux, the two sides are scheduled to start direct negotiations with United Nations and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Jan. 24 in Geneva.

Speaking in Washington yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to the opposition coalition to agree their participation after postponing action last week.

“We urge a positive vote,” Kerry said, adding that the talks provide “the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution and the political solution of this terrible conflict that has taken many, many, many too many lives.”

Syrian Objections

The Assad government informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a Jan. 8 letter that it will send a delegation to the talks, while objecting to “certain points” in the terms of the negotiations. The government said elements of Ban’s invitation conflict “with the legal and political position of the State of Syria.”

Syria previously has objected to the idea that peace talks would involve the departure of Assad, as the U.S. asserts.

The U.S. has said -- and Kerry repeated yesterday -- that the Geneva communique’s language requires Assad’s removal because the opposition would veto any agreement that left him in power.

Kerry said there’s international agreement that the purpose of the talks is “specifically and solely” to implement the 2012 communique with its provision for a mutually agreed transitional governing body.

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