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Kerry Says He Is 'Confident' Syria Peace Talks Can Proceed

January 23, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is confident that UN-sponsored Syrian peace talks can proceed as scheduled in Geneva next week.

'We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so, those talks can get going, and that the UN representative special envoy, Staffan De Mistura, will be convening people in an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the first meeting in Geneva,' Kerry told reporters in Saudi Arabia on January 23.

Kerry spoke following talks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in Riyadh. Earlier in the day, he discussed the planned Syria peace talks in a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The talks are scheduled to begin January 25 in Geneva, though the start date remains uncertain due to a dispute over who will be part of the delegation representing the opposition challenging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Later in the day, Kerry was set to hold talks with Riad Hijab, chair of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee, which was formed in Riyadh last month.

Kerry said world powers would convene after the first round of peace talks.

'I won't announce a date, but we all agreed that immediately after completion of the first round of the Syria discussions, the International Syria Support Group will convene, and that will be very shortly, because we want to keep the process moving,' he said.

The question of exactly who will represent the divided Syrian opposition at the talks has proven vexing. After a meeting on January 20, Kerry and Lavrov issued a joint statement saying 'particular attention was given to the need to form a genuinely representative opposition delegation.'

Last week, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups announced a proposed delegation, but Moscow is concerned because the delegation would be headed by a leader of the Saudi-backed Islamist Jaish al-Islam group, which Moscow considers a terrorist organization.

Excluded opposition groups, including Syria's Kurdish minority, have also objected to the proposed delegation.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Turkey on January 23 to discuss, among other things, the Syrian situation. Biden said that the United States and Turkey 'are prepared' for a military solution if a political solution is 'not possible.'

A U.S. official clarified later that Biden meant a military solution against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the same joint press conference with Biden that 'only legitimate' Syrian opposition groups should be allowed to participate in the Geneva talks. Specifically, he objected to the participation of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which he said is part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, TASS, and Interfax


Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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