By Alexander Dziadosz and Stephen Kalin
The United Nations envoy to Syria said on Friday he hoped a long-delayed peace conference could still be held in the next few weeks despite obstacles that have held it up for months.
The so-called Geneva 2 conference, intended to bring Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between world powers, divisions among the opposition and the inflexible positions of both sides.
Arab and Western officials said this week that international powers were unlikely to meet their goal of holding the conference in November.
U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, speaking at a news conference in Damascus after a trip to shore up support for the talks, said he would go to Geneva to meet U.S. and Russian representatives.
They would later be joined by representatives from the other three permanent U.N. Security Council members – Britain, China and France – to prepare for the conference and agree on a date.
Asked when the conference might be held, he said: “We hope it will be in the coming weeks, not next year or after that.”
Neither side has softened its position despite international pressure to convene the talks, seen by some rebels as a betrayal of the aims of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Information Minister Amran Zoabi, in an interview aired after Brahimi spoke, accused him of using “more than one language … to please everyone at the expense of the truth”.
“When he speaks inside Syria, he uses one logic and when he leaves Syria he uses another logic,” he told Al Mayadeen TV.
Zoabi also criticised Brahimi for focusing on humanitarian issues “outside his purview” and for inviting to the peace talks countries that “directly support the hostility against Syria” such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
DISPUTES AND DIVISIONS
Syrian state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi in a meeting on Wednesday that talks would only succeed if foreign powers stopped supporting the rebels.
There is also discord on whether Assad’s ally Iran should be invited to the talks. Tehran says it is ready to come.
Brahimi said the United Nations preferred that Iran attend, but there had been no agreement on this yet. He also said he hoped just one delegation would represent the opposition.
Turkey and Iran said on Friday they had common concerns about the increasingly sectarian nature of Syria’s civil war, signalling a thaw in a Middle Eastern relationship strained by stark differences over the conflict.
The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad in the 2-1/2-year-old conflict have been hindered by severe divisions.
Some of the main rebel groups reject the authority of the Syrian National Coalition, an Istanbul-based opposition group which Western powers are trying to convince to join the talks.
Brahimi declined to specify any date for the conference.
“There are some very, very serious efforts being developed everywhere to try and make this conference possible, but we will say it happens only when it happens,” he said.
Well over 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which eventually turned into an armed insurrection after a violent security response to peaceful protests in March 2011.