Last updated: 25 November, 2013

Syria peace talks important step to ending war: US

The United States Monday welcomed plans to hold a Syria peace conference early next year, calling it the “best opportunity” to form a new transitional government to lead the country out of war.

“In order to end the bloodshed and give the Syrian people a chance to meet their long-deferred aspirations, Syria needs new leadership,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, after UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the talks would be held in Geneva in January.

“The conference on January 22 is the best opportunity to implement the Geneva communique and form a new transitional governing body through mutual consent,” Kerry added in a statement, referring to a 2012 agreement to transfer Syria’s leadership.

The talks will bring together the Syrian government and the opposition at the negotiating table for the first time since the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.

Kerry has been working with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to organize the peace talks with the UN since May.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions displaced,creating a global humanitarian crisis as neighboring states struggle to accomodate the refugee tide.

“The United States has long made clear that there’s no military solution to the violence in Syria,” White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One.

He stressed it remained Washington’s view that Assad had to step down, and “we’ll necessarily need to end (Geneva) with Assad leaving power.”

If a new leadership can be agreed at the Geneva talks early next year it would mark “an important step toward ending the suffering of the Syrian people and the destabilizing impact of this conflict on the region,” added Kerry.

But he recognized “that the obstacles on the road to a political solution are many, and we will enter the Geneva conference on Syria with our eyes wide open.”

In the coming weeks, the US top diplomat said Washington would work with the United Nations and its partners in preparing the agenda for the talks, as well as the guest list.

The Syrian regime and the opposition will both have “to form their delegations,” he added in his statement.

There have been differences over whether Iran, accused of propping up the Assad regime with weapons, money and fighters, should be invited to participate in the talks.

Kerry did not explicitly mention who would be on the guest list, saying only: “Since foreign states have considerable influence on the factions waging war within Syria, they too have an important role to play.”

“To contain the growing threat from extremism and foreign fighters within Syria, and to ensure respect for Syria’s territorial sovereignty, we cannot delay the work of establishing a transitional government,” he added.