Ban announces next round of Syria peace talks set for Jan. 22 in Geneva

UN chief: "For the first time, the Syrian Gov't and opposition will meet at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield."

Ban Ki-moon at the UNGA 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ban Ki-moon at the UNGA 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – After months of planning and debate the UN has set a date for the Geneva II conference, Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, announced on Monday that the conference will take place on January 22, 2014.
“At long last, and for the first time, the Syrian Government and opposition will meet at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield,” Ban told reporters.
“This is a mission of hope. We go with a clear understanding: The Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria.”
“I expect all partners and parties to demonstrate their support for constructive negotiations,” Ban said. “All must show vision and leadership...
all parties can and must begin now to take steps to help the Geneva conference succeed, including [steps] toward the cessation of violence, humanitarian access, release of detainees and return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people to their homes.”
Ban did not take any questions from reporters.
Representatives of the Kurdish National Coalition will be included in the opposition Syrian Coalition at the conference, according to a statement from the US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The goal of the conference is “full implementation of the Geneva Communiquè,” Psaki said, referring to the document that participating countries, including the US and Russia, drew up at the first Geneva conference on June 30, 2012, that agreed on the broad brush strokes of what a political transition in Syria should look like.
The first Geneva conference failed to stop the Syrian conflict, necessitating a second conference.
“Negotiations represent the best opportunity to end the bloodshed,” the US State Department said. “The United States echoes the calls by humanitarian organizations for the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access to all those in need.”
The United Nations is hoping for a peaceful transition in Syria, building on an agreement between world powers reached in June last year.
The deal calls for the warring sides to set up a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities, but leaves open the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The announcement came as Syrian mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met senior US and Russian officials in Geneva in his latest effort to get negotiations on track to end the war, now in its third year, which 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.
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, as has Brahimi.
It was not clear from Ban’s statement whether Iran would be invited to the Geneva II talks. He said he expected “all regional and international partners to demonstrate their meaningful support for constructive negotiations.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said it was not yet agreed whether Iran should be invited, Interfax news agency reported.
A senior European Union diplomat involved in issues relating to Iran and Syria said that the United States has been holding this up, but after Sunday’s nuclear deal, “I cannot imagine Washington continuing to object to an Iranian presence.”
The invitation from Ban says the basis of the Geneva II meeting is the world powers’ Geneva declaration of June 2012, so Iran would just have to acknowledge the Geneva communiqué, the diplomat said.
The US and its allies say Iran must accept the June 2012 agreement before it can be invited to Geneva II.
“Until Iran publicly endorses the Geneva communiqué, and therefore makes clear that it supports the purpose of the Geneva II conference, it is hard to see how it can play a constructive role in finding a political solution to the conflict,” a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “a political transition would mean that Assad can have no future role in Syria.”
A US official said Secretary of State John Kerry would attend the January talks.
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 Russian 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.