Jarba Says 'Friends of Syria' Agree No Role for Assad and Family in Country Futureإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Ahmad Jarba, the leader of Syria's opposition National Coalition, said Sunday that the U.S.-led "Friends of Syria" grouping had agreed that President Bashar Assad and his family will have no role in the country's future.
Jarba did not announce whether or not the opposition would take part in peace talks with representatives of Assad's regime due to start next week in Switzerland.
The Coalition, which is under intense pressure to confirm its participation, has said it will decide on the issue on January 17.
“We stressed the need for offering quick support to the Free Syrian Army,” said Jarba after talks with the Friends of Syria group in Paris.
“We all agree that neither Assad nor his family can have a role in Syria's future,” he added, noting that “there is undisputable consensus on the issue of ceding power."
"We have entered the decisive period, which we know how difficult it will be, and we thank all friends," Jarba went on to say.
For his part, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the so-called Geneva 2 conference must lead to the formation of a "transitional government with full executive powers in Syria."
"The Syrian tragedy can only end through a political solution and it is important to hold Geneva 2 for this purpose," he added.
Fabius accused the Syrian regime of being the party that is "fuelling terrorism."
"If we want to eradicate terror, the regime must leave," he added.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We emphasized over and over to the opposition representatives that not taking part in the talks would lead to a failure of the discussions or would prevent them from taking place."
"I hope we convinced them," he added.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined ministers from 10 other countries at the Paris meeting, which was aimed at persuading the opposition National Coalition to attend a first round of talks scheduled for Montreux, Switzerland on January 22.
The Swiss talks have been organized in an attempt to revive a long-stalled framework for peace involving a cessation of hostilities and the creation of a national transitional government that could involve figures from the current regime and the opposition.
But opposition leaders are wary of being drawn into a process they fear could result in Assad clinging on to power and have yet to give a commitment to attending.
In a statement issued at the end of Sunday's talks, the 11-nation Friends of Syria urged the opposition to respond positively to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's invitation to send a delegation to the Montreux talks.
"We invite them to form... a delegation of opposition forces to participate in the political process," the statement said, adding: "We pledge our full backing to the opposition during the Geneva II Conference."
The Friends of Syria groups Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
For its part, Damascus has insisted that Assad would lead any transition agreed at the Geneva talks.
"If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva 2 to hand the keys to Damascus over, they might as well not go," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in December.
The Geneva communique reached in June 2012 envisaged a transition for Syria, but did not specify whether Assad should leave.
Jarba has called for Assad to stop using heavy weapons, lift sieges on a number of opposition-held areas and allow the opening of humanitarian corridors as a show of good faith ahead of any talks.
There has been no sign of progress on those issues but U.S. officials have expressed confidence that, with little prospect of securing a military victory after nearly three years of fighting, the opposition will come to Montreux.
"I think in the final analysis they won't want to miss that opportunity, because frankly there's no other game, really," a U.S. diplomat told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was in the opposition's interests to attend the talks and try to end a conflict that has caused 130,000 deaths and created more than two million refugees.
"In the end, there's got to be a political solution in Syria," Hague told Sky News from Paris. "This is going to put the Assad regime on the spot if everybody turns up at those peace talks."
The balance of power in the conflict in Syria appears to have tipped in Assad's favor over the last week as deadly clashes have erupted between the mainstream opposition and an al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with which they were previously allied.
According to NGOs monitoring the conflict, at least 700 people have been killed since the fighting started January 3 and the ISIL is threatening to abandon frontline positions in the area around Syria's second city, Aleppo.
The fighting has exacerbated concern in western capitals over the strength of radical Islamist groups within the broad alliance of forces fighting Assad.
Hopes of progress towards peace in Syria rose last year when Assad agreed to give up the regime's chemical weapons after the West pulled back from the brink of threatened military intervention.
Opposition leaders fear that deal, which involved Syria's ally Russia becoming a pivotal player in the efforts to end the conflict, has diluted the West's determination to see Assad removed from power.
Among the other issues that were discussed on Sunday was whether Iran, an important backer of Assad, will have any role in peace talks further down the line.
Russia has been lobbying for Tehran to be brought into the process and the issue is likely to dominate discussions on Monday between Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria.