October 22, 2013 - 09:29 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Arab and Western foreign ministers are to meet Syrian opposition officials in London in an effort to persuade them to attend the next round of peace talks, BBC News reported.
A key group in Syria's main opposition alliance is threatening to boycott the talks, expected next month in Geneva. It says any deal must see President Bashar al-Assad step down, while Damascus says that is not on the table.
But the ministers will say opposition unity is vital if peace talks are to have any chance of success.
In London, foreign ministers from 11 countries - the so-called Friends of Syria group - will try to lay the groundwork for what is known as the Geneva II conference. Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are also expected to reaffirm their view that the conference must be about a political transition in Syria away from the Assad regime.
Speaking ahead of the London meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that Syria's opposition would never agree to President Assad staying in power.
"If he (Assad) thinks he's going to solve problems by running for re-election, I can say to him, I think that certainly this war will not end as long as that's the case that he's there," Kerry said after talks with Arab League officials in Paris.
"I don't know anybody who believes the opposition will ever consent to Bashar al-Assad being part of the government. He has bombed and gassed people in his country... How can that man claim to rule under any legitimacy in the future?"
The main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, said it was postponing until early November meetings to decide whether to attend the Geneva conference. The dominant group in the coalition, the Syrian National Council, is currently refusing to go. The opposition has been further weakened by fighting between the moderate Free Syrian Army and Islamist rebel groups.
Meanwhile, Assad said on Monday, Oct 21, no date had been set for an international conference on ending the war in his country.
According to Reuters, with Western and Arab countries hoping the talks can start a political transition that would see him leave office, Assad once again indicated he had no intention of quitting, saying he might run for re-election in 2014.
"Personally, I don't see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next presidential elections," Assad told Syria's Al Mayadeen TV when asked if he thought it was suitable to hold the election, as scheduled, in 2014.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Sunday after meeting international envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi that the peace conference, known as Geneva 2, was scheduled for November 23. Brahimi said the date had "not been officially set".
Remaining confident and animated throughout the two-hour interview, Assad, whose forces have made recent gains, told his interviewer: "There is no date so far ... and current factors do not help in holding it."
He said opposition groups that had been invited to the talks represented foreign powers rather than Syrians. He criticized Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States and also the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which he described as a terrorist group.
"Many questions about this conference are still on the table," he said.
Assad inherited power from his father in 2000 and was confirmed in an election in which he ran unopposed. He was re-elected in 2007. The Assad family has ruled Syria, where parliament is considered a rubber stamp, for more than 40 years.