Dispute over Opposition’s role imperils Syria peace talks

The United Nations on Monday said it was waiting for regional powers spearheading the Syria peace process to agree on who will take part in talks starting in just one week’s time and raised the possibility of a delay.

The peace talks, the first between the Syrian government and the Opposition since 2014, are scheduled to open in Geneva on January 25, but invitations have yet to be sent to the delegations. The 17 countries pushing for a peace deal, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have been struggling to agree on the list of opposition leaders who will have a seat at the negotiating table.

“At this stage, the UN will proceed with issuing invitations when the countries spearheading the international Syrian Support Group process come to an understanding on who among the Opposition should be invited,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “urges those countries to redouble efforts to reach that agreement,” he said.

The UN spokesman said there were “concerns about arrangements” that had yet to be resolved for the talks to go ahead and added: “If there is any kind of slippage, we will let you know.”

Saudi Arabia last month hosted a meeting of armed factions and Opposition groups to agree on a common platform in negotiations with the Damascus regime, but Russia has said that effort did not include all players. Moscow wants the moderate Opposition that is closer to President Bashar al-Assad to take part.

Riyadh said on Tuesday that no one should dictate to the Syrian Opposition who represents them at peace talks. “The Syrian opposition is the party which decides who represents it in the talks, and the higher committee that emerged from the Riyadh conference is the concerned party and they are the ones who decide who represents them in the talks,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. — AFP & Reuters

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