CAIRO: Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba said Sunday the opposition would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva unless there was a clear timeframe for President Bashar Assad to leave power.
“We have decided not to enter Geneva talks unless it is with dignity, and unless there is a successful transfer of power with a specific timeframe, and without the occupier Iran at the negotiating table,” Jarba told an Arab League emergency meeting in Cairo.
There is also discord among world powers over whether Iran should be invited to the talks. Tehran has said it is ready to come, and U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, says the U.N. preferred that Iran attend but there had been no agreement on that yet.
A senior State Department official, speaking ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Cairo and Riyadh, said the top U.S. diplomat would make clear to the Saudis that Iran would not be welcome to attend the Syria peace talks unless it endorsed a past agreement that would see Assad give up power.
“Iran has not done that, and without that even we couldn’t consider the possibility of their participating,” the official added, stressing: “It is a question of just making sure they understand the details of how firm our position is.”
Jarba’s latest comments throw the proposed talks into further confusion.
Brahimi has said there would be no preconditions for the long-delayed peace talks.
The talks are meant to bring Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table, but have been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between world powers, divisions among the opposition and the irreconcilable positions of Assad and the rebels.Arab and Western officials said this week that international powers were unlikely to meet their goal of holding the conference in November.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said in comments made on Egyptian state TV that the meeting of the ministers aimed to “encourage” the Syrian opposition to attend the Geneva II talks, which are backed by the U.S. and Russia.
“The ministers are asked today to provide all the support to the [opposition Syrian] National Coalition in order to encourage it to participate in Geneva II,” he said.
Brahimi has said that Geneva II would not be possible without the participation of the Syrian opposition.
Brahimi met Assad Wednesday and said the Syrian government had agreed to take part in talks and the opposition was “trying to find a way to be represented.”
The Syrian National Coalition has said it plans to meet on Nov. 9 to decide whether to attend, but the Syrian National Council, a key member of the bloc, has threatened to quit if it does so.
Even if Jarba were to attend the Geneva II meetings, he has no authority over the rebel brigades battling to overthrow Assad.
The main rebel brigades have announced their opposition to the conference if it does not result in Assad’s removal.
Meanwhile, Jarba urged the League to “take a clear decision on the delivery of weapons to the Syrian rebels,” adding: “We are ready to provide all the guarantees that they would not fall into wrong hands.”
In Cairo, Kerry said Washington and its allies may differ over “tactics” on the Syrian conflict but they shared the goal of a handover of power.
“There are some countries ... that wanted the United States to do one thing in respect to Syria and we have done something else,” Kerry acknowledged during a joint news conference with Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy.
But he insisted: “Those differences on individual tactics on policy do not mean a difference on [the] fundamental goal of the policy.
“We all share the same goal ... that is the salvation of the state of Syria and a transition government put in place ... that can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future.”
“We also believe that Assad by virtue of his loss of moral authority cannot be part of that ... Nobody can answer how you can actually end the war as long as Assad is there,” he said.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry denounced Kerry’s comments. It said in a statement that remarks by Kerry “threaten to cause the failure of the Geneva conference, are a flagrant violation of Syrian affairs and an aggression against the Syrian people’s right to decide their future.”
“If the United States is sincere in its cooperation with Russia, Kerry must understand that only the Syrian people have the right to choose their political future, without foreign intervention,” the ministry said Sunday.
“The success of Geneva II depends solely on the Syrians’ willingness to reach an agreement among [themselves] to put an end to violence and terrorism, and to reach a political solution.”