SNC to attend Geneva talks if Assad agrees to hand over power

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A spokesman for the main Syrian opposition bloc has said the group was willing to attend an international peace conference in Geneva next month if there were indications that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would step down.

In an interview with the BBC reported on Saturday, the Syrian National Coalition’s Louay Safi said the opposition forces would participate in the peace talks if Assad and his associates hand over power as part of any settlement.

Speaking during a three-day opposition meeting in Istanbul, Louay said: “If the government will agree to the framework, yes [we will be there]. We have welcomed the Geneva agreement from day one. We would like to find a political solution. But we don’t want to be deceived again by this regime, which has deceived us many times.”

Earlier, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that Moscow had received the Damascus government’s assurance it would take part in the talks, during a visit this week by Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad.

“We note with satisfaction that we have received an agreement in principle from Damascus to attend the international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to resolve the conflict,” Lukashevich told reporters.

But the move was met with skepticism from the opposition.

“We were surprised that this announcement was made in Moscow, not in Damascus,” Safi told the BBC. “The first reaction is that we would like to hear it from the Syrian government.”

Fellow Coalition spokesman Khaled al-Saleh told reporters in Istanbul that “we want to make sure that when we enter those negotiations the bloodshed in Syria will stop.”

Assad’s place in any new transitional team proposed by Moscow and Washington remains the main stumbling block to the talks taking place in the coming weeks.

Some rebel leaders have said that no negotiations were possible with Assad remaining in power. The Damascus government counters that it wants assurances that the president’s role will not be a subject of debate in Geneva.

The talks are the product of an agreement by the U.S., which has been backing the rebels, and Russia, which has been backing the government, to try to negotiate a political solution to end the stalemated war.

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