Syria Government, Opposition Agree to 'Meet in Same Room'

Assad's delegates say political transition is not up for discussion, while opposition leaders state Assad's removal as precondition.

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The Syrian government and opposition have agreed to "meet in the same room," UN mediator Lakhdar Ibrahimi said on Friday, ending a deadlock that threatened to derail the peace conference in Geneva.

"Tomorrow we have agreed that we will meet in the same room," Ibrahimi said during a press conference after concluding a meeting with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) opposition group.

"The discussions I had with the two parties were encouraging and we are looking forward to our meetings tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon," he said.

The first session of talks at the United Nations' Geneva headquarters will be devoted to "procedural matters" in order to ensure the "smooth" running of negotiations, Ibrahimi said.

The Syrian government had threatened to pull out of the conference if no agreement is reached by Saturday on meeting with opposition delegates.

The government refuses to discuss the subject of political transition in Syria, saying the talks should focus on fighting terrorism. However, the opposition wants to focus on working out an interim government, insisting that President Bashar Assad must go.

"This regime has not been serious in its commitment to the process and we need a written agreement over a political transition to continue," SNC member Wael Safi told reporters.

The so-called Geneva II talks are designed to implement a previous deal reached by the two sides over the implementation of a political transition to end the three-year conflict. A recent report by Amnesty assessed that more than 130,000 people have been killed during throughout the fighting.

The opposition wants the negotiations to be based on an agreement reached at an international peace conference on Syria in Geneva in 2012, which called for a national unity government.

The Syrian government said it never agreed to the so-called Geneva I communique, calling any talk of Assad stepping down a "red line."

"One of the many things we hope to achieve is to clear the ambiguities surrounding many of these points," Ibrahimi said.

Ibrahimi added that the two sides would discuss opening besieged towns and cities across the country to the delivery of urgent humanitarian aid, expecting both sides to make "several concessions as the days go on."

"We never expected it to be easy and we are sure it will not be but I am sure that the two parties understand what is at stake," he said.

"The huge ambition of this process is to save Syria. I hope that all three parties, the government, the opposition and the UN will be up to the task."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Assad will not be able to regain his legitimacy. Speaking at at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kerry added that the violence would not stop as long as Assad remained in power.

"Because of the things he has done, because of the 130,000 people who have been killed, the opposition will never stop fighting while he is there," Kerry said.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimiduring a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 24, 2014.Credit: AP
Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba arrives to meet UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Geneva, January 24, 2014.Credit: AFP

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