Russia, U.S. deny date set for Syria peace conference


Qadri Jamil, Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, listens during a news conference in Moscow, August 21, 2012.Photo - Reuters

Moscow: A senior Syrian official said on Thursday that a long-delayed international conference aimed at ending his country's civil war was scheduled for November 23-24, but co-organisers Russia and the United States said no date had been set.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also cast doubt on the statement, saying the timing of the conference intended to bring Syria's government and opposition together had not yet been agreed.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil gave what he said were the dates for the meeting during a news conference in Moscow. He later told Reuters: "This is what (U.N. Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon is saying, not me."

Hours later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said: "We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves."

"It is not a matter for Syrian officials but the responsibility of U.N. Secretary General to announce and set dates agreed with all sides," he said.

The United States seconded that.

"We have discussed potential dates but nothing has been finalized," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing. "No date is final until it is set and announced by the U.N."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has suggested the conference be held sometime in mid-November, will attend a meeting of the "Friends of Syria," including Western and Gulf Arab countries, in London on October 22 where the peace talks will be discussed, Psaki added.

Brahimi spokeswoman Khawla Mattar said she did not expect a date to be announced before early November.

"We are still not announcing a date because we don't think they are finalised or agreed by all parties," Mattar said.

But she said a deputy to Brahimi, Nasser al-Kidwa, would meet with Syrian opposition representatives in Istanbul and other capitals to "discuss with them their readiness for specific dates in November."

'DEAD END'

The deal reached last month for Syria to scrap its chemical weapons rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed "Geneva 2," which Russia and the United States have been trying to organise since May.

Jamil has made several visits to Russia during the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

He said the conference was needed because "everyone is at a dead end - a military and political dead end.

"Geneva is a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition. Whoever realises this first will benefit. Whoever does not realise it will find himself overboard, outside the political process."

The prospect of a peace conference raises questions over whether Iran will be invited to the Syria peace talks, something Washington has pushed back at unless Tehran states publicly that it would support a transition government in Syria. That would mean Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down.

Psaki said Brahimi and Kerry discussed Iran's participation in a Syria peace conference at their meeting in London on Monday.

"We continue to discuss with our allies and stakeholders whether Iran should participate," Psaki said, adding: "Our position remains the same, which is that any party (which) would be included in Geneva 2 must accept and publicly support the Geneva communique," which calls for a transitional government in Syria.

"That is not what Iran has done, and if they were to do that we would be more open to their participation," Psaki added.

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