Syrian opposition calls for Assad’s exit as basis for peace talks

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The opposition Syrian National Coalition will not take part in a planned Geneva II peace conference unless the objective is President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power, the coalition president Ahmad al-Jarba said on Tuesday.

“Geneva cannot succeed and we cannot take part if it allows Assad to gain more time to spill the blood of our people while the world looks on,” Jarba said.


A final decision on the SNC’s participation will be made within 10 days, Jarba said, noting that there will be “no negotiations or reconciliation with the Syrian regime.”

Jarba said that the regime of President Assad is supported by more than 60,000 fighters from Iran and that without the Iranian backing, Assad would’ve lost. “Iranian fighters are wreaking havoc in Syria,” he said.

While Washington has said it is open to the possibility of Iran coming to a Geneva conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said it was hard to see Tehran playing a constructive role unless it backs the idea of a transitional government.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, said Iran must support a proposed interim government in Syria including figures from Assad's administration and the opposition as the way to political dialogue and free elections.

“If Iran could start from that position as well as the rest of us, then Iran would be more easily included in international discussions on the subject,” he said.

Kerry said the Syrian opposition coalition would decide within the week whether it was ready to meet with Assad's government on ways to move forward after 2 1/2 years of war that has killed more than 100,000, Associated Press reported.

Both Kerry and Jarba were in London meeting with diplomats from 11 Western and Mideast nations who are trying to reach a settlement.

British Foreign Secretary Hague said it was vital that the Western-backed Syrian opposition join the talks.

“We urge the National Coalition to commit itself fully and to lead and form the heart of any opposition delegation to Geneva,” he told a news conference.

But many of the mostly Islamist rebels fighting in Syria refuse to recognize the exiled opposition favored by the West.

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