Syria's FM: Assad's Future a 'Red Line'
The Syrian government’s delegation arrived on Tuesday in Switzerland for peace talks with the opposition, but was quick to declare that the future role of President Bashar Al-Assad is a "red line", AFP reports.
"The issues of the president and the regime are red lines for us and for the Syrian people," the official SANA news agency quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem as saying shortly before his delegation arrived in the Swiss city of Montreux for the talks.
"Nobody can touch the presidency," he declared.
Muallem promised that the government delegation would make every effort to ensure the peace conference bore fruit.
"We are committed to working for the success of this conference so that it is the first step on the road to a dialogue between Syrians on Syrian soil," he said.
At the same time, he hit out at the UN organizers of the peace conference for their failure to invite a separate delegation from the government-tolerated opposition in Damascus which opposes the armed rebellion supported by the exiled National Coalition.
"The UN gave in to Western pressure by refusing to invite the national opposition," he charged, according to AFP.
The regime-tolerated National Coordination Body for Democratic Change said on Monday that it had turned down an invitation from the National Coalition to attend the peace talks as part of a single delegation.
It said its leader Hassan Abdel Azim had been invited to take part on Sunday by Coalition president Ahmad Jarba but had refused.
The Geneva II conference, for which the United States and Russia have been pushing for months, has split the Western-backed Syrian opposition.
Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, confirmed late Monday it would take part in the talks this week after the UN withdrew an invitation for Iran.
The biggest bloc in Syria's opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Council, however, later said it was quitting the Syrian National Coalition in protest over the peace talks with the Damascus regime.
The National Council said taking part in the talks would renege on its "commitments" to not enter negotiations until Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad left power, something he refuses to do.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon had abruptly excluded Iran from this week's Syria peace conference in Switzerland after it refused to back calls for a transitional government to end the country's war.
Ban withdrew the surprise invitation less than 24 hours after it had been made, bidding to save the talks which start in the Swiss town of Montreux on Wednesday.