Syrian National Coalition agrees Geneva talks position

Members of the Syrian National coalition (SNC) attend a meeting of the National Coalition on November 9, 2013, in Istanbul Members of the Syrian National Coalition have been meeting in Istanbul

Syria's main opposition alliance says it will attend planned peace talks, if a number of conditions are met.

After a vote early on Monday, the National Coalition reiterated that President Bashar al-Assad would "have no role in the transitional period".

Before any meeting, relief agencies had to be given access to besieged areas and all detainees, particularly women and children, had to be freed, it said.

The Syrian government has rejected any preconditions for the Geneva talks.

The UN, US and Russia had been trying to convene the meeting by the end of November.


The announcement came as no surprise. The National Coalition wants to go to Geneva, but says the outcome of any talks should be binding. Its statement says humanitarian aid should be allowed into Syria, the government's offensive on opposition-held areas should end, and all political prisoners should be released.

President Assad has said he is happy to be represented at the talks as long as there are no preconditions. And the coalition's announcement could be seen as setting preconditions.

There is a strong sense in Syria of the need for a political solution. For many Syrians, the Geneva talks are the only hope of an end to their suffering.

The National Coalition and many others inside Syria want the talks to be effective and based on the implementation of the Geneva Communique, which requires an immediate halt to violence and the establishment of a transitional government.

One leading opposition figure said they feared becoming like the Palestinians and spending decades in "peace negotiations".

But UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said last week that the conference would be delayed, although he was still "striving" for a summit by the end of the year.

Future of Syria

The National Coalition reached the agreement after two days of talks in Istanbul.

A statement released by the office of Monzer Azbik, the chief of staff to the coalition's leader, repeated the group's demand that President Assad step down in any transitional government.

"Bashar al-Assad will have no role in the transitional period and the future of Syria,'' it said.

The coalition also outlined conditions that must be met before the talks, including a guarantee of access for relief agencies.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the result of the vote was encouraging.

"This is a big step forward and an important one," he told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

The US, UN and Russia have been trying for months to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a political solution to the 32-month-old conflict based on the core elements of the final communique issued in June 2012 after a meeting of the UN-backed Action Group for Syria in Geneva.

The so-called Geneva Communique called for an immediate cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under Mr Assad and members of the opposition.

The government has said it will "in principle" attend the conference. However, it has also said it will not negotiate with "terrorists", while dismissing almost all those who oppose it as such. It has also insisted repeatedly that any political solution will not involve Mr Assad's departure,

Syrian refugees in a park on 3 November 2013 in Istanbul More than nine million Syrians are believed to be in need of humanitarian relief

Ahmed Jarba, the head of the National Coalition, had already indicated a willingness to attend the Geneva talks.

But several of the major rebel fighting groups have refused to recognise its authority and rejected the idea of negotiations.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011, according to the UN.

Aid agencies have warned that more than nine million Syrians, almost half the population are now in need of humanitarian relief.

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