Kerry urges Syrians to attend his peace talks

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE on Thursday issued a public appeal for Syrian rebels to participate in next week's peace talks near Geneva.

America's top diplomat is eager to salvage a last-ditch attempt at a political settlement that he's spent months championing, along with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The talks are seen as a long shot to ending a civil war that has raged since March 2011; the main Syrian opposition umbrella group in exile is scheduled to decide Friday whether to attend.

“The United States urges a positive vote,” Kerry said during a brief appearance at the State Department before jetting off next week to Montreux, Switzerland. “We do so knowing that the Geneva peace conference is not the end but rather the beginning, the launch of a process — a process that is the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution.”

Another opposition group that's based inside Syria already rejected participation on Thursday and urged the Syrian National Coalition to vote “no.”

“There will be four days between the Coalition's decision to attend Geneva and the start of the conference,” National Coordination Body executive member Khaled Dahowd told Lebanon's Daily Star. “How can we create a unified delegation with a unified democratic platform four days before an international conference? Under these conditions we will not attend. ... The Geneva conference as planned now will fail.”

Kerry said the talks aim to replace Syrian President Bashar Assad with a coalition government that all parties can live with. Assad has announced he might run for reelection this year.

Kerry said Syria has become “the strongest magnet for terror of any place today” and pinned the blame squarely on Assad and his regime.

“It defies logic that those whose brutality created this magnet … could ever lead Syria away from extremism and toward a better future,” Kerry said. 

“Any names put forward for leadership of Syria's transition must … be agreed to by both the opposition and the regime. That is the definition of mutual consent.”

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