The United States is trying to persuade a key Syrian opposition group to drop its refusal to join planned peace talks, saying its participation is essential, a US official said Tuesday.
The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc within the Syrian opposition coalition, said at the weekend it would not attend the talks planned for next month and would quit the umbrella group if it does.
“There have been many ups and downs in this process. And that’s not unexpected given how challenging the situation is on the ground,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“But we continue to press for the opposition to have a representative body at the Geneva conference, ” she told reporters.
George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council, the biggest member of the opposition coalition, told AFP on Sunday it was impossible to carry out negotiations given the suffering of people on the ground.
“The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc in the Coalition, has taken the firm decision… not to go to Geneva, under the present circumstances,” George Sabra told AFP.
The so-called Geneva II peace conference was first talked of in May but has been postponed several times due to internal wrangling among the opposition and a dispute on which countries should have a place at the negotiating table.
US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had been working closely with the opposition “to make sure they know from our team that it’s essential and important that they attend a conference,” Psaki said.
After talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, it was announced that the UN and its international partners now hope to convene in mid-November the talks that aim to chart a path towards a political transition in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday after talks in London with UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that it was “urgent” to set a date.
“For our part, the United States are deeply committed to try to set a date very soon,” Kerry said.
He argued there had to be a deal for a transitional government, as President Bashar al-Assad “has lost the legitimacy necessary to be able to be a cohesive force that could bring people together.”
Psaki told reporters that the opposition’s participation in peace talks was “pivotal.”
The US was trying to stress peace talks were “the way to end this terrible conflict, that there is not a military solution. The only path to ending this civil war is a political solution,” she added.