Kerry urges Syrian opposition to attend peace talks

McClatchy InteractiveJanuary 16, 2014 

Mideast Syria

Dec. 17, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center, AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians inspect the rubble of damaged buildings following a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria.


Secretary of State John Kerry made an unusual televised appeal Thursday urging Syrian opposition leaders to attend the first formal peace talks of the nearly 3-year-old conflict.

Kerry, in a surprise appearance at the State Department briefing, seemed to tailor his remarks to members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition who are voting tomorrow on whether or not to attend the so-called "Geneva 2" conference to be held in the Swiss city of Montreux.

The United States is painting the Geneva process, so named because it's based on principles agreed to in that city in summer 2012, as the only viable way to end the war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions in a massive migration that threatens regional stability.

For months, Syrian government forces and rebel fighters have been locked in a bloody stalemate. The Geneva process calls for opposition and regime representatives to negotiate the formation of a mutually agreed-upon transitional governing body that would assume full executive powers.

"The Geneva peace conference is not the end, but rather the beginning," Kerry said. "The launch of a process, a process that is the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution."

Kerry said the United States urges a "yes" vote on participation in the conference, which has been delayed on several occasions mostly because of the Syrian opposition's internal debates on whether to participate and, if so, with which delegates. The United States is tasked with getting the opposition to the table; Russia is responsible for making sure its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, is represented.

Opposition forces have little to gain and much to lose by attending the summit, analysts say.

The opposition coalition has no real constituency inside of Syria, where Islamist forces have seized the revolutionary mantle through brigades that are better equipped and more popular than the U.S.-backed opposition politicians or their semi-affiliated rebel units. Some extremist forces have threatened retaliation against any participant in the Geneva process.

Besides, analysts add, with no real sway on the ground, the opposition coalition doesn't have the means to implement any agreement struck in Geneva.

"Obviously, none of this will be easy," Kerry said. "Ending a war and stopping a slaughter never is easy."

Kerry's remarks, which lasted about six minutes, addressed the proliferation of al Qaida-style extremist groups that are ostensibly fighting on the rebel side, but have begun killing and intimidating more moderate opposition forces in a vicious power struggle that's all but collapsed the U.S.-backed relatively moderate opposition.

Kerry said the Obama administration is "deeply concerned" about how Syrian has become a breeding ground for extremism.

"The world needs no reminder that Syria has become the magnet for jihadists and extremists," he said. "It is the strongest magnet for terror of any place today."


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