The Syrian National Coalition, the main umbrella opposition body in exile, has agreed to participate in long-awaited peace talks planned for January 22 in Geneva.
The Syrian National Coalition’s media office said on Saturday that of 75 voters, 58 voted in favour of attending the conference against 14 ‘No’ votes, two abstentions and one blank vote.
“We are joing Geneva talks to rid Syria of this criminal [President Bashar al-Assad],” Ahmad Jarba, president of Syrian National Coalition said at a press conference after the ballot held on the outskirt of Turkish city of Istanbul.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said the Syrian opposition has struggled to reach a decision to join the talks.
“None of us were sure that they would get there,” she said. “There were so many obstacles to overcome.”
Our correspondent also said that the opposition wanted to make sure they have the support of the fighters inside Syria, before heading to Geneva.
As of Saturday evening, the Syrian opposition has not named the delegates to the negotiations, she said. “The names of the delegates will likely be released on Sunday.”
Jarba said the opposition was going to the talks with the head held high. “We are supported and relying on people who are facing many atrocities that are unprecedented in history,” he added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday praised the decision by Syria’s opposition leaders to attend the peace talks.
“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the [Bashar] Assad regime and a civil war without end,” Kerry said in a statement, calling the opposition decision to attend the Geneva II meeting “a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians”.
The secret ballot was a result of pressure from Western and Arab sponsors of the opposition.
Many members boycotted the Istanbul meetings that began on Friday, forcing the Coalition’s legal committee to approve the decision in a simple majority vote.
The vote came two days after the Syrian government agreed to attend the talks aimed at ending the nearly three years civil war.
Al Jazeera obtained a letter written by the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to the UN chief that appeared to set conditions for the peace talks.
“It should be noted that we do not agree with certain points mentioned in the letter of invitation, simply for the reason that they are in conflict with the legal and political position of the State of Syria,” Muallem wrote in reply to an invitation from Ban Ki-Moon.
Geneva II talks will be the first face-to-face meeting between the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition since the country’s crisis began in March 2011, killing more than 100,000 people and displacing millions.
|Syrian opposition’s decision a “good first step”|
The US and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year and it has been repeatedly delayed.
The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva II, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.
One of the main demands of the opposition was that President Bashar al-Assad agrees to step down before going to the conference. With his government troops keeping their momentum on the ground, Assad’s government has said he will not surrender power and may run again in elections due in mid-2014.
Many Coalition members were hesitant to attend a conference that has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground, who reject the talks.