Syrian opposition keeps its position on Geneva II calls

Syria’s opposition in exile resisted calls Tuesday from Western and Arab countries to commit to attending peace talks, saying it would not take part if there was any chance President Bashar Assad remained in power.

Eleven countries meeting in London pressed the opposition Syrian National Coalition to join talks to end a conflict that has killed over 100,000 people, but the group listed conditions and said it would decide in the coming weeks whether to attend.

“There will not be any negotiations at all without making sure that the Geneva II meeting is basically for the transitional period and for Assad to go,” National Coalition chief Ahmad al-Jarba told a news conference after the meeting.

“We are not going to sit and negotiate with Assad possibly being there,” he said. “Our people would not accept that. They will consider us as traitors if we came here to sell our people.”

However, Jarba did not explicitly rule out joining the talks and said his group would meet soon, possibly in Istanbul on Nov. 1, to vote on whether to attend Geneva II.

The United States and Russia said in May they would convene a Geneva II peace conference in which both sides would agree a transitional political set-up to end the war, but it faces huge obstacles and no firm date has been set.

A communique from the meeting said Geneva II would aim to establish a transitional government by which time “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.”

In the latest indication that Assad feels his position is tenable, he said Monday he saw no reason why he should not run for re-election next year.

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