US, Russia Fail to Agree on Syria Peace Talks Date
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - The United States and Russia failed to agree on a date for a Syrian peace conference, remaining divided over what role Iran might play in talks to end crisis in Syria and over who would represent Syria's opposition.
"We were hoping that we would be in a position to announce a date today; unfortunately we are not," said UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who chaired the meeting at the United Nations in Geneva. "But we are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year."
Brahimi conferred with senior US and Russian officials before widening the talks to include representatives from Britain, France and China, as well as Syria's neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and the Arab League.
Brahimi said he would bring Russian and US officials together again on November 25 and hoped that opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have agreed on delegates to represent them some days before that, Reuters reported.
"The opposition has a very, very difficult time," he said. "They are divided. It is no secret for anybody. They are facing all types of problems and they are not ready."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who met Brahimi along with fellow Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, said the United States, which has backed the revolt against Assad, did not have the leverage needed to assemble a credible opposition delegation representing various factions.
"It is not just the representation of the opposition that is required, but the participation of an opposition delegation of a broad range of opposition forces. And this is what the Americans are failing to achieve," RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.
Washington was represented at the talks with Brahimi by State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman and Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria.
A senior US official said they had been "very substantive and very helpful", adding: "We are very hopeful that this conference will take place before the end of the year."
"If it takes the opposition coalition a few more weeks to prepare themselves in the way they feel they need to, to be full partners, a full delegation at a conference, then we want to support them to do that," the official said.
The proposed peace conference is meant to build on a June 2012 agreement among world powers in Geneva that called for a transitional authority with full executive powers, but did not explicitly say Assad should step down.
Meanwhile Russia said Iran must be invited to any peace talks, after the main Syrian political opposition leader said his coalition would not attend if Tehran took part.
The US official said Washington recognized Iran was going to play a role in the region and wanted to ensure it was not a negative one. "But ... the United States believes everybody who comes to the Geneva conference should subscribe to the Geneva communique, have made that commitment before they come. Iran has not chosen to do that."
"All those with influence on the situation must certainly be invited," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow. "This includes not only Arab countries but also Iran."
Saudi Arabia and the United States oppose any invitation for Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran could contribute to a peaceful solution and was willing to call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria:
"We believe that everybody should assist the Syrian parties to come to the negotiating table to seek a solution," he told France 24 television. "Those who are supporting armed groups need to do their part to end this illusion that there can be a military solution to Syria."