BEIRUT- Syrian peace talks meant to begin this week were stalled on Monday partly over the question of who would represent the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected clarity within a day or two, and expressed support for the United Nations envoy who has the tricky task of issuing invitations for the first talks in two years to end the 5-year-old civil war.
The talks were meant to begin on Monday in Geneva, but have been held up by international disagreement over who should be invited from the opposition. Rebels also want an end to air strikes and government sieges of territory they hold, and the release of detainees.
Diplomacy has so far yielded no progress towards ending or even curbing Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.
Since the last peace conference was held in early 2014, ISIS fighters have declared a caliphate across much of Syria and Iraq, and the war has drawn in most world powers. The United States has led air strikes against the militants since 2014 and Russia last year launched a separate air campaign against enemies of its ally Assad.
The Syrian military and its allies have been encouraged by recent gains carved out with the help of overwhelming Russian fire power.
Diplomats were given a new push by a U.N. Security Council resolution backed by Washington and Moscow last month calling for talks, but peace efforts are on hold while questions including whom to invite are unresolved.
Russia says opposition figures it calls terrorists should be barred from the talks, and wants to include groups like the Kurds who control wide areas of northern Syria. Regional heavyweight Turkey strongly opposes inviting the Kurds.
The main Sunni Arab opposition groups, who are supported by Arab governments and the West, say they will not attend unless they can choose their own delegation. Spokesman Salim al-Muslat said the opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) would discuss its position on Tuesday.
Kerry said he backed U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura in holding off on issuing invitations until things are clearer.
“We will have to see what decision Staffan makes as to exactly how he is going to begin; but we don’t want to decide and have it crumble on day one. It’s worth taking a day or two, or three, or whatever,” Kerry said during a visit to Laos.
It was up to the Syrian parties to ensure successful talks, Kerry added: “They have to be serious. If they are not serious, war will continue. Up to them. You can lead a horse to water; you can’t make it drink.”