UN Plans Syria Peace Summit in January as Ban Urges Concessions
The United Nations plans to convene a Syrian peace conference on Jan. 22 in Geneva, after a meeting this month was canceled because opposition groups weren’t ready to sit down with the Syrian regime.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s Syria envoy who discussed details of the peace bid with U.S. and Russian officials today, said the list of participants isn’t yet complete and he’ll meet his American and Russian counterparts again in Geneva on Dec. 20.
Attempts to build momentum for a political resolution have so far been unsuccessful. Sides to the conflict couldn’t agree on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, foiling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to convene talks this month.
Efforts to gather the warring sides at a conference have intensified since Russia and the U.S. reached an agreement in September to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The pact averted an American military strike in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack by Syrian government forces outside Damascus in August.
The Syrian civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since an uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Among the recorded deaths are 11,420 children, 764 of them thought to have been executed, according to a report released yesterday by the Oxford Research Group, an independent U.K. research center.
Ban announced the date for talks in an e-mailed statement today, saying that the goal of the conference is “the establishment, based on mutual consent, of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities.”
The Jan. 22 conference will follow last year’s inaugural talks and would bring together the conflict’s opponents for the first time, Ban said in his statement.
“It would be unforgivable not to seize this opportunity to bring an end to the suffering and destruction it has caused,” Ban told reporters in New York. “All parties can and must begin now to take steps to help the Geneva conference succeed, including toward the cessation of violence, humanitarian access, release of detainees and return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people to their homes.”
The Syrian National Coalition, the main western-backed opposition alliance, wants to see confidence-building measures introduced before the conference, Istanbul-based spokesman Khalid Saleh said by phone today.
“We call for the release of women and children, humanitarian corridors and an official declaration from the regime accepting the six principles of the Geneva Communique,” Saleh, referring to the document adopted at the first round of peace talks last year.
The coalition’s governing general assembly is scheduled to meet Dec. 15 and Jan. 7 and will evaluate any progress, Saleh said, without commenting on whether it may boycott talks if its demands aren’t met.
The Geneva Communique, which calls for the establishment of a transitional administration acceptable to both the Syrian government and the opposition, doesn’t explicitly describe the fate of Assad. The U.S. has said countries wanting to participate in talks must accept the communique’s conditions.
Iran and Saudi Arabia, which backs rebel forces in the conflict, are “certainly among the possible participants,” Brahimi said.
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