President Assad not to attend Geneva talks


Russia’s deputy foreign minister says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not attend the Geneva II conference aimed at ending the crisis in Syria.

“The conference will open at a foreign minister level. Logically, the [Syrian] government’s delegation should be headed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem,” RIA Novosti quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying on Tuesday.

“The presidents are not going to come.”

Bogdanov made the comments after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said the long-delayed meeting would be held on January 22, 2014.

Ban also praised efforts made by Russia, the US, the UN as well as UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi to lay the ground for the international conference, adding, “We will go to Geneva with a mission of hope.”

Bogdanov noted that the conference would start with a plenary session for the participating countries, under the chairmanship of the UN chief.

“The initiators of this conference – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry – will deliver speeches followed by statements from delegations of Syria and other states,” he said.

The Russian diplomat further said that a preparatory meeting would be held on December 20.

On Monday, Brahimi said that the conference would start “without any preconditions,” adding, it is “really for the Syrians to come to Geneva and talk to one another and hopefully start a credible, workable effective peace process for their country.”

Syria’s foreign-backed opposition has said it would only attend the talks after the resignation of President Assad. However, the Syrian government has rejected preconditions or any insistence on Assad’s departure.

The international envoy also said that the list of participants at the upcoming talks has not yet been finalized, but Iran and Saudi Arabia “will certainly be among the possible participants.”

The Geneva II conference, which will be a follow-up to an earlier one held in June 2012, had been proposed by Moscow and Washington on May 7, but its date was delayed several times.

Syria has been gripped by a deadly crisis since 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

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