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Syrian National Coalition To Attend Peace Talks

The main Syrian political opposition group in exile has agreed to attend peace talks starting next week in Switzerland.

The National Coalition said delegates meeting in Turkey on January 18 had voted in favor of participating in what would be the first direct talks between the opposition and the government of Bashar al-Assad to end nearly three years of war that has left over 100,000 dead.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the vote in Istanbul, calling it a "courageous decision."

In a statement, Kerry added that Washington will push to bring to an end the worst abuses of the Assad regime, including its use of "SCUD missiles, barrel bombs, and horrific weapons used against civilians."

In a speech after the vote, the leader of the National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, said they are heading to the conference "without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad's regime."

However, analysts say many Coalition members are reluctant to attend, pointing to the fact some 40 coalition delegates boycotted the two-day meeting in Istanbul.

Some in the coalition don't want to take part in any talks unless there are guarantees Assad will have no role in any transitional authority.

Although Islamic rebel groups reject any talks with the government, the head of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, General Salim Idris, said in a statement that he backs "a solution that guarantees a political transition of power."

He called upon Coalition officials heading to Geneva to demand that Assad and his top officials leave power, have no role in Syria's future and set up a transitional government "with full powers."

Major Issam el-Rayyes, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolutionary Front, also said they back a political solution that would include Assad leaving power.

The Syrian government has already said it will attend the peace talks in Switzerland.

However, Damascus says the focus of the talks should not be the creation of a transitional authority, but rather the fight against "terrorism," the term the government uses to describe its battle with increasingly radical rebels.

The United States and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their demands.

More than 35 countries will gather in the Swiss cities of Montreux and Geneva from January 22 for talks on setting up a transitional government to lead the country, in line with a 2012 deal.

Based on Reuters and AP reporting

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