Syria to Attend Geneva Peace Conference, Says Muallem

Syria's foreign minister said on Sunday that his government will take part in a peace conference in Geneva, terming it a "good opportunity for a political solution" to the civil war in Syria.

Walid Muallem also praised an Iraqi army operation against Sunni militants near the border with Syria, during a surprise visit to Baghdad that came as Iraqi authorities searched a Syria-bound aircraft.

He said during a news conference in Baghdad that he had told his counterpart Hoshyar Zebari and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the decision to attend the planned Geneva talks in June.

President Bashar Assad's regime had agreed "in principle to participate in the international conference which is supposed to be convened in Geneva," Muallem said.

"We think... that the international conference represents a good opportunity for a political solution to the crisis in Syria."

Muallem also took a swipe at countries supporting rebels who are locked in a bloody civil war with Assad's regime, saying that "the regional countries that conspire against Syria are the same that support terrorism in Iraq."

And he praised a massive Iraqi army operation against Sunni militants in the country's west.

"We are (pleased) with the steps taken by the Iraqi army in fighting Al-Qaida members. This is an Iraqi-Syrian issue, because those (militants) who are in Syria are connected to those who are in Iraq," Muallem said.

He added that both Iraq and Syria agreed that "Iraq cannot be in the camp of enemies of Syria."

Iraq on Saturday launched an operation to better secure its western desert, amid concerns it is being used by militants heading to fight against Assad's regime.

Among the mostly-Sunni rebels fighting Assad's forces are groups allied to Al-Qaida. That has fueled fears in Baghdad of a spillover from war-torn Syria increasing tensions and violence in Iraq.

The more than two-year conflict in Syria has reportedly left more than 94,000 people dead.

Muallem's visit came on the same day Iraqi authorities searched a Syria-bound aircraft that had flown from Moscow through Iranian airspace into Iraq, Nasser Bandar, the head of Iraq's civil aviation authority, told AFP.

No prohibited items were found, Bandar said.

Iraq has sought to publicly avoid siding either with Assad or rebel forces, but Baghdad has been accused by Western governments of turning a blind eye to Iranian flights allegedly carrying military equipment to regime forces.

Source: Agence France Presse

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