New Syria peace conference taking shape
May 15 2013 12:45 AM



Plans to convene a new peace conference on Syria were gathering pace yesterday amid a round of intense diplomacy, as US officials said the Assad regime appeared ready to take part.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to squander the opportunity to come to the table for negotiations, insisting “enormous plans are being laid” for what has been dubbed Geneva II.

In a possible sign of progress, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had also told the US chief diplomat that Assad had “already given him the names of people who will negotiate”, Kerry said.

Kerry and Lavrov have been working in tandem since announcing in Moscow last week plans for a new conference aimed at mapping a path towards a political transition in Syria and ending the bloody conflict now in its third year.

The two top diplomats met for the second time in a week late yesterday on the sidelines of talks on the Arctic in Sweden, as they groped for a solution based on a deal agreed in June last year in Geneva.

Exactly who will attend the conference, where it will be held and when, has yet to be determined, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

Kerry warned earlier however in a press conference in Stockholm that if Assad makes another “gross miscalculation” and decides not to attend then it was “clear the opposition will be receiving additional support”.

Ventrell would not say if Kerry meant Washington would review its long-standing refusal to arm the rebels, adding however that “the bottom line is that our assistance to the Syrian opposition
is on an upward trajectory”.

“The secretary’s point is that this would be a deep mistake on the part of the regime to miss this opportunity, which is the best route to end the violence,” Ventrell told journalists.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity since Kerry’s Moscow talks last week, with foreign ministers beating a path to the Russian capital to discuss the conflict in which an estimated 94,000 people have now died.

It is anticipated that the conference could now be held in early June, possibly in Geneva where the first talks were hosted.

Kerry insisted it was being brought together under the aegis of the UN, who would announce a date and venue when ready.

He also spoke early yesterday with the chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army General Salim Idris, saying that he was “committed to this negotiation process”.

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