Syrian regime envoys threaten to quit peace talks

Photo: Syrian regime envoys threaten to quit peace talks / Arabic region

Syrian government envoys threatened on Friday to leave a peace conference on ending the conflict should efforts to secure a face-to-face meeting with opposition representatives fail, dpa reported.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Ibrahimi that his delegation was prepared to walk out of the talks if the historic meeting doesn't happen by Saturday, the Information Ministry said.

Ibrahimi held talks with government representatives, and is expected to meet opposition leaders separately later on Friday.

The main point of contention is the future of President Bashar al-Assad. The opposition says he must go, and the government insists the issue is a "red line" that is not up for discussion.

Information Minister Amran Zoubi said in a statement before the meeting with Ibrahimi that the regime had not agreed to the formation of an interim government, the cornerstone of a blueprint agreed at an international conference on Syria in 2012.

The opposition said it was committed to the talks, as long as a discussion of a political transition is on the agenda.

Ibrahimi wants the sides to meet at the UN's offices in Geneva, Switzerland, where it is believed talks will centre on the release of prisoners and detainees and the possibility of opening besieged towns and villages to humanitarian aid deliveries.

The two sides clashed openly over the conference's focus at a launch ceremony Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux.

Al-Assad's representatives insisted the gathering be devoted to tackling the threat of "terrorism" from extremist groups in Syria.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) demanded that negotiations open with discussions on the formation of an interim government and the departure of al-Assad.

On the eve of the face-to-face talks, SNC chief Ahmad Jarba dismissed the al-Assad regime as "dying" and "criminal." Syrian officials questioning the legitimacy of the coalition.

Nevertheless, opposition delegates remained hopeful that progress could be made toward finding a solution to end the violence that has claimed more than 130,000 lives.

"We know that the road to an agreement over a political solution is a long one, but every journey starts with a first step," Burhan Ghalioun, an opposition delegate, told dpa.

Should the initial two-day talks prove a success, opposition delegates and mediators expect the negotiations to stretch on from several weeks to six month, rotating to different European cities.

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