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Syrian opposition undecided on Geneva peace talks

  • Article by: DESMOND BUTLER
  • Associated Press
  • January 7, 2014 - 4:40 PM

ISTANBUL — Members of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group say they have postponed a vote on whether or not to attend a peace conference in Switzerland this month.

The Syrian National Coalition had been expected to decide Tuesday whether or not to attend the so-called Geneva peace conference, which is to open Jan. 22 in Montreux, Switzerland.

But coalition officials say that amid sharp disagreement over the issue, the vote was postponed until at least the middle of next week. That would be less than a week before the conference. The postponement of a vote whose outcome is uncertain adds to doubts about the conference whose prospects already look shaky.

Hadi Al Bahra, a member of the coalition's political committee, said the vote could happen as early as Jan. 15. Al Bahra said that many members are angry that the government of President Bashar Assad has not agreed to the principles from an earlier peace conference that called for a transitional government in Syria. Assad's government has said the president will not surrender power and may run again in elections due later this year.

The possibility that Iran, which has strongly backed Assad, might join the talks also has provoked disagreement within the coalition. Though Iran was not among the recipients of invitations to the conference sent by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday, his spokesman has said that Ban favors inviting Iran.

Abdulrahman Alhaj, a member of the Syrian National Council, which is an influential block within the coalition, said that sharp disagreement over attending the talks could fracture the coalition.

"If that happens, there won't be a Geneva conference," said Alhaj, who is not a member of the coalition. "We need a credible, united opposition to go to Geneva."

© 2014 Star Tribune