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Middle East

Coalition being told to go to Geneva or else

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sits inside a tent belonging to a Syrian refugee family at a refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. (AP Photo)

LONDON/VATICAN CITY: Britain and the United States have told Syria’s main opposition group that they will halt their support if it fails to send a delegation to peace talks this month, British media reported Tuesday.

“The U.S. and U.K. are telling us you need to go to Geneva,” an unnamed senior official in the Syrian National Coalition was quoted as saying by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper.

“They are making it very clear that they will not continue to support us the way they are doing now and that we will lose credibility with the international community if we do not go.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited the Vatican to discuss Syria, “did not indicate that the United States was planning to cut off assistance” in his public or private pronouncements.

Kerry has said “that there are high stakes at play for the [coalition] and that the international community strongly believes that it is in their interests and the interests of the Syrian people for them to send a representative delegation,” she said.

According to the BBC, the Syrian official questioned whether London and Washington had any choice in who they dealt with, saying: “What is the alternative?

“They have a brutal dictator who used chemical weapons on one side and Al-Qaeda on the other, so who will they deal with, if not with us?”

Kerry expressed hope this week that the opposition would attend the so-called Geneva II talks set to open on Jan. 22, saying they were a “test of credibility of everybody” in the conflict.

The coalition is divided over whether to attend the talks in the Swiss city of Montreux but is expected to make a decision Friday.

The coalition official, speaking in London, said other backers of the opposition were not applying the same pressure as Britain and the U.S.

“France is asking us to go but saying that we are with you whatever your decision. That is the same as the Saudi and Turkish stance,” the official was quoted as saying.

The Vatican urged an unconditional cease-fire in Syria and the involvement of all regional players, including Iran, in the talks.

Kerry said after meeting with Pope Francis’s right-hand man Pietro Parolin that the U.S. welcomed Vatican support.

A Vatican statement following a workshop on Syria Monday said the Holy See was ready to support all religious communities in the country toward reconciliation and said the recent interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program could have a positive effect.

“To build the basis for regional peace, Geneva II needs to ensure inclusive participation of all parties to this conflict, within the region and beyond,” it said.

Russia, the chief ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime, is keen to see Iran at Geneva II, but the U.S. has said Tehran should first back an accord on a transitional government.

“The first and most urgent step ... should be an immediate cease-fire and end to violence of all kinds, an end without political preconditions,” the Vatican said, echoing a joint call by Moscow and Washington Monday for local cease-fires and humanitarian corridors.

“All internal combatants should put down their weapons. All foreign powers should take immediate steps to stop the flow of arms and arms funding that feed the escalation of violence and destruction,” it said.

Separately, Turkish President Abdullah Gul called for a shift in policy toward Syria after years of vocal opposition to the Damascus regime.“I am of the opinion that we should recalibrate our diplomacy and security policies given the facts [in Syria],” Gul told Turkish ambassadors gathered in Ankara.

Turkey hosts the coalition on its soil as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the increasingly deadly conflict.

“We are pondering what to do for the realization of a win-win situation in the region,” Gul said, saying it called for “patience, calm ... and, when necessary, silent diplomacy. Today’s situation, however, represents a lose-lose scenario for each state, regime and people of the region. Unfortunately we see there are no magic formulas to reverse this picture.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Kerry expressed hope this week that the opposition would attend the so-called Geneva II talks set to open on Jan. 22, saying they were a "test of credibility of everybody" in the conflict.

The coalition is divided over whether to attend the talks in the Swiss city of Montreux but is expected to make a decision Friday.

The coalition official, speaking in London, said other backers of the opposition were not applying the same pressure as Britain and the U.S.

Kerry said after meeting with Pope Francis's right-hand man Pietro Parolin that the U.S. welcomed Vatican support.

Russia, the chief ally of President Bashar Assad's regime, is keen to see Iran at Geneva II, but the U.S. has said Tehran should first back an accord on a transitional government.


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