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Syrian regime agrees to attend Geneva talks

Foreign minister says in Iraq that his country agrees "in principle" to attend US-Russia- backed conference.

Last Modified: 27 May 2013 08:18
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Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (left) took a swipe at countries supporting rebels [Reuters]

The Syrian foreign minister says his country has agreed "in principle" to take part in an international conference in Geneva next month, aimed at ending the conflict in Syria.

Walid Muallem said on Sunday in Baghdad that his government believes that the so-called Geneva 2 conference, proposed by Russia and the US, is a "good opportunity for a political solution for the crisis".

Muallem did not elaborate during a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart but criticised the backers of the Syrian rebels, saying that "the regional countries that conspire against Syria are the same that support terrorism in Iraq".

Officials in the main opposition Syrian National Coalition have also indicated their readiness to attend the Geneva conference, but said they first wanted guarantees that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would step down eventually.

"We are ready to enter into negotiations that are aimed towards transferring power to the people, towards a democratic transition. And that of course means Assad cannot be a part of Syria in the future," Louay Safi, an opposition spokesman, said.

The US and Russia unveiled earlier this month a plan to bring both the Syrian government and the opposition to the table to negotiate an end to the country's 26-month conflict, which the UN estimates has left at least 80,000 people dead.

An exact date for the conference has not been set yet because of what Russia, a key ally of Assad, described as a lack of unity among Syria's opposition.

Sergey Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, and John Kerry, US secretary of state, were due to meet in Paris on Monday for further talks regarding Syria.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition, which has been meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul since Thursday, has yet to reach an official position on the Geneva 2 peace initiative.

On Monday the group expanded itself to include eight new members, bringing the total to 70, and was expected to elect its new leader later in the day.

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