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Syria peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 22

Meeting on the situation in Syria in GenevaAn international peace conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war will be held on January 22, the first face-to-face talks between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels seeking to overthrow him, the United Nations said on Monday.

The U.N. is hoping for a peaceful transition in Syria, building on an agreement between world powers reached in June last year in Geneva.

“We have a clear goal,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York.

That was the “full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012”, including the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities.

The participation of Syria’s ally Iran in the peace conference has been a major stumbling block as Washington has opposed it, while Russia has backed Tehran’s attendance.

The United States and European governments have said Iran could only attend the so-called “Geneva 2” talks in January if it embraces the outcome of the June 2012 conference, which called for a transitional government to replace Assad’s cabinet.

The announcement of fresh talks came as Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met senior U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva in his latest effort to get negotiations on track to end a war, now in its third year, that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Brahimi, with backing from world powers, has been trying to convene a peace conference since May and had hoped it could be held in December.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said it was not yet agreed whether Iran should be invited, Interfax news agency reported. Separately, Western diplomats agreed.

World powers including the United States clinched a deal on curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme at the weekend, in a sign of easing tensions between the longtime foes.

A senior EU diplomat involved in issues relating to Iran and Syria said that after Sunday’s deal, “I cannot imagine Washington continuing to object to an Iranian presence”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the Syrian opposition for delays in convening the conference, saying it had repeatedly set out conditions for participation, including Assad’s exit, which Moscow says cannot be a precondition for a peace process.

Lavrov, speaking in Rome during a trip with President Vladimir Putin, said: “It could have been held much earlier if the opposition had felt responsibility for its country and had not put forward preconditions when we met in September, October, November,” state-run Russian news agency RIA reported.

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