Syrian opposition to attend peace talks

Members of the Syrian opposition coalition receiving support from Western powers including the United States voted Saturday to attend a peace conference with the Syrian government scheduled for next week.

According to the Associated Press, 58 of the group’s 73 voters signaled their willingness to negotiate with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad, which has already agreed to participate.

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Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the vote in a statement on Saturday.

“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end,” Kerry said. “By voting to go to Geneva II with a mission to negotiate an end to the war, the opposition has chosen a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians.”

Members of the coalition said they were wary of participating in the talks, which were opposed by rebels on the ground. Some opponents of the regime have said that the negotiations could merely reinforce Assad’s legitimacy and undermine the legitimacy of the coalition.

But Western supporters of the opposition had pressured the group to participate in the negotiations, which could bring a cease-fire in the city of Aleppo.

Earlier this week, Kerry insisted that the U.S. was committed to a transitional government and elections in a bid to build support for the vote. He also said the U.S. would continue to insist that Assad step down.

"I believe as we begin to ... get into this process, that it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen," Kerry said according to Reuters.

"We are also not out of options with respect to what we may be able to do to increase the pressure and further change the calculus," he added.

On Saturday, Kerry reiterated the administration’s demand that there regime cease the use of SCUD missiles and barrel bombs against rebel forces, and called for improved humanitarian access to contested regions.

The Obama Administration attempted to build support for military strikes against Assad last year after the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s bloody civil war. The White House ultimately abandoned that effort after Assad agreed to turn over his stockpile of chemical weapons to the international community in a deal brokered by Russia.

This story was updated at 3:44 p.m.