London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The ‘Friends of Syria’ group of states called on the Syrian government and its opponents to attend a forthcoming peace conference aimed at ending the country’s civil war at a meeting in London on Tuesday.
Foreign ministers from the 11 core members of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group issued a communique which included setting out a framework for an agreement at the Geneva II peace conference set to take place in November. This conference aims to reach a political agreement between Bashar Al-Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition to end the bloodshed in Syria.
However, though the group urged both sides to take part, it was not able to confirm that the opposition’s most prominent umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, will attend the Geneva conference.
Ahmed Jarba, chairman of the Coalition, attended the meeting in London and was accompanied by a delegation from the Syrian opposition. He said that the Coalition refused to participate in “Assad’s production,” and put forward the organization’s own preconditions for attending Geneva II.
Jarba refused to submit to international pressure to agree to the Coalition’s participation stating that it would “undermine our credibility if we surrendered to it.”
He revealed that the Coalition’s general assembly meeting on November 1 in Istanbul will determine whether the opposition will participate in the Geneva II conference, the date of which is yet to be confirmed.
The 11 states represented in London—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the UK—confirmed that they will all attend the conference.
The communique issued by the group called for the creation of a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers and authority, led by individuals approved by both sides of the conflict.
“We agree that when the [transitional government] is established, Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria,” it added.
The Syrian opposition have called for Assad to step down prior to talks and the formation of a new government.
Assad, however, has recently said that he sees no reason why he should not seek another presidential term in 2014, when his current tenure as president of Syria is set to expire.
At a press conference after the meeting, US secretary of state John Kerry said it was for the Syrian government and its opponents to decide on the shape of a future Syrian government, but that it was unlikely to include Assad.
Responding to an Asharq Al-Awsat question as to what prevented Assad from ruling through a proxy, Kerry said it was up to Syrians to work that out.
He said: “With respect to Assad himself and his continuance, the question you asked, that’s for the parties to negotiate. That’s not for us to predetermine. The key is that you have full executive authority that is transferred. That means you’re not playing games and someone isn’t pulling the strings from behind the scenes and the people who are there are legitimately moving for all Syrians to protect all Syrians and send a message about a fair, free, transparent, accountable, accessible election for everybody to be able to choose the future of Syria. That’s the standard. And within that standard, the parties will have to decide.”
With respect to Iran’s position on Syria, Kerry stated that the issue of Syria was not a “topic of our conversation,” in talks between himself and his Iranian counterpart, Mohamad Javad Zarif, held in New York in September.
Responding directly to a question regarding Iran’s position, raised by Asharq Al-Awsat, Kerry said: “We have not seen a significant change in that period of time with respect to Syria…it would certainly be welcome and it would be a very important sign with respect to good faith in terms of resolving the regional issues.”