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Russia Says Syria Government Agrees In Principle To Conference

  • RFE/RL

Russia's Foreign Ministry says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government has agreed in principle to attend an international peace conference in Geneva proposed by Russia and the United States.

However, a spokesman added that it is impossible to set the date for the conference at this point because there is "no clarity about who will speak on behalf of the opposition and what powers they will have."

"We are pleased to announce that Damascus has expressed its readiness in principle to participate in the international conference [on Syria] in order for Syrians themselves to find a political path to a solution of a conflict that is so disastrous for the nation and the region," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich told a news conference in Moscow.

The peace conference, dubbed "Geneva 2" and expected to be held in June in the Swiss city, would be aimed at ending the raging Syrian civil war, which in two years has killed more than 80,000 people.

"Demands to immediately set a concrete date for convening the conference, with no clarity about who will speak on behalf of the opposition and what powers they will have, cannot not be taken seriously," Lukashevich cautioned.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition continued talks in Istanbul on May 24 on whether to take part in the prospective Geneva talks with members of Assad's regime.

Louay Safi, a spokesman for the coalition, reacted with skepticism to the Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement.

"First we would like to hear that from the spokesman of the Syrian government, what Russia is saying on behalf of the Syrians," Safi said. "The Assad government should make that point clear and then we would like to know that this delegation is empowered to make decisions including the transfer of power to this interim government, the transitional government, that is fully powered to make decisions. That is not clear."

On May 23, the coalition had said participating in talks alongside representatives of the Damascus regime would be possible only if Assad first signals he is on his way out.

A day earlier, the group of international backers of the opposition known as Friends of Syria gathered in Jordan's capital, Amman, and warned Assad's regime that should it fail to accept talks, they would step up their assistance to the rebels.

More than 80,000 people have been killed in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which followed the North African and Middle Eastern wave of so-called Arab Spring uprisings.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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