France Says Syria Peace Talks to Take Place without Assad
Long-delayed Syria peace talks due in January will take place without the presence of President Bashar Assad or radical opposition groups, France's foreign minister said on Tuesday.
"The purpose of Geneva II is not to have an armchair discussion about Syria, it's to have mutual agreement between regime representatives -- without Assad -- and the moderate opposition in order to form a transitional government," Laurent Fabius told French radio.
"It's very difficult, but it's the only solution that allows us at once not to have Mr Bashar Assad and not to have the terrorists," he said, referring to the Islamic extremist members of Syria's fractured opposition.
Fabius spoke a day after the United States and Russia threw their weight behind the long-delayed Syria peace talks, dubbed Geneva II, which the United Nations said would finally be held on January 22.
International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said a list of participants has not yet been drawn up for the negotiations, which will bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table for the first time since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011.
Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said France wanted both the regime and the moderate opposition to send just one delegation each for the talks.
"The National Coalition should be at the heart of the opposition delegation and lead it," he said, adding that the transitional government should be the only institution with "legitimacy and legality".
"When it is set up, Bashar Assad should have no role," Nadal said.
The Syrian regime's crackdown on what started out as peaceful protests led to a spiral of violence and full-out civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, and displaced several million people.
The conflict has sucked in regional powers and exacerbated festering sectarian hostilities within the Islamic world, with Sunni Saudi Arabia supporting the rebels and Shiite Iran backing Assad's regime.