US Secretary of State John Kerry headed Saturday for Paris to hold talks about the Syrian war, hoping to press the fractured opposition to participate in upcoming peace talks, the AFP news agency reports.
The Sunday meeting of the "Friends of Syria" grouping at the French foreign affairs ministry will include ministers from 11 countries that support the so-called Geneva 2 peace process, as well as the president of Syria's main opposition National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba.
Those countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan – will increase pressure on Jarba to persuade the opposition to join the UN-led talks, which are set to open in the Swiss town of Montreux on January 22.
The talks would be the first time since the war erupted in March 2011 that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad sits down with the opposition to discuss an end to hostilities.
But while the regime has said it will attend, the fractious, exiled opposition postponed a vote on whether to participate until January 17. A key group within the opposition's National Coalition has already announced that it will not take part in the suggested talks.
Iran will not participate in the Geneva 2 process, US diplomats said Friday. Syrian leaders have said they are committed to the participation of Iran, which has remained the Assad regime's key regional ally.
Kerry, whose plane took off from New York where he had a private event, will also take advantage of his stop in Paris to return to the issue of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with a meeting of Arab League nations. The Arab League voted last month to reject a proposal Kerry put forth regarding the Jordan Valley.
Kerry had been expected to return to Israel next week as he seeks to hammer out a framework to guide the negotiations in the coming months.
But State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said no decision had yet been made on when the top US diplomat might return for more talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The State Department added that the Paris meetings will keep him from traveling to Israel for Monday's funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
After Paris, Kerry heads to Kuwait on January 15 for a Syria donor's conference set to be attended by officials from some 60 countries.
The conference aims to raise around $6.5 billion to help Syrian civilians affected by the war. At least 2.2 million Syrian citizens – half of them children - are now refugees.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that over 130,000 people have been killed in fighting over the past three years.