Syrian Rebels Agree to Attend Geneva Peace Talks
The Western-backed Syrian opposition has agreed to participate in international peace talks in Geneva, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said in a statement on Sunday night.
According to Reuters, the SNC’s statement, translated from Arabic, outlined conditions that must be met before the talks which aim to end Syria's two-and-a-half year civil war and the affirmation that any international conference must result in a political transition.
Earlier, a spokesman for the SNC said the group continues to reject any future role for President Bashar Al-Assad and other regime members who have “tainted their hands with blood,” reported Al Arabiya.
The spokesman, Khaled al-Saleh, said in a press conference in Istanbul that while the coalition is committed to a “political solution,” it will not participate in the proposed peace talks in Geneva to end the 32-month Syrian conflict unless certain demands are met.
“The six principles [included in Geneva I that took place last year] are frames and not preconditions. They are needed to create a real political process [to form a transitional government] and this is what we are asking for. It includes ceasefire, the release of detainees and formation of a transitional government, and yes it mandates no role for Assad in any political process in Syria,” Saleh said, according to Al Arabiya.
He added that his group’s stance regarding Iran, which has been assisting Assad in fighting rebels trying to oust him, is “very clear.”
Iran needs to “withdraw all of its militias,” including terrorists from Hezbollah and from Iraq’s Abu Fadhl al-Abbas, Saleh was quoted as having said.
“If they do that, then we can discuss the Iranian attendance in Geneva II,” he added.
The spokesman said his group, which is set to offer humanitarian help for people inside the “liberated” areas in Syria, is currently talking with rebels and civilians inside Syria before making any decisions on Geneva II.
Saleh said the opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) “are on the same side and we are fighting a common enemy.”
The goal, he said, was to have a unified position and “to enter any peace process in a united manner.”
“If we are going to be in Geneva, they are going to be part of that delegation. They have as much interest in a successful and free democratic Syria as we do,” declared Saleh.
Washington, Moscow and the United Nations are trying to fix a date for the so-called Geneva II talks, aimed at bringing all sides together to discuss a political solution to the conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since March 2011.
Sunday’s statement by the SNC marks a change in the stance of the Western-backed Syrian opposition, which up to now has refused to attend the conference altogether unless Assad's resignation is on the table.
The more extreme Islamist groups fighting to topple Assad have declared that attending peace talks or negotiating with the regime would be an act of betrayal.
Assad has declared that foreign support for rebels must stop for peace to take place in the war-battered country.
Last week, Syria’s Information Minister, Omran al-Zoubi, declared once again that the Syrian regime will not attend a proposed Geneva peace conference if the aim is for Assad to hand over power.