Assad casts doubt on Syrian peace talks

The much-delayed peace talks over Syria’s civil war appeared further in doubt on Monday as Syrian President Bashar Assad cast new reservations about their usefulness.

Assad expressed reluctance to engage with the Syrian rebels in an interview with the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV, saying "the factors that would help in holding [the conference] are not in place if we want it to succeed."

Assad also questioned the legitimacy of the rebel groups.

"Who are the groups that will participate? What is their relation with the Syrian people? Do they represent the Syrian people or they represent the country that made them?" Assad asked, according to the Associated Press.

Assad’s comments come one day after there was uncertainty on the opposition side as well.

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In a Cairo press conference on Sunday, Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby announced that talks would start on November 23, but he was refuted — seconds later — by the joint U.N.- Arab league envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi at the same press conference.

Brahimi said that no date had been set for the talks. 

On Monday, a senior State Department official said in a London press briefing that the conference "should be held within the coming weeks, coming months.”

Dubbed "Geneva II," the Syrian peace talks have been re-scheduled multiple times, most recently over the Syrian National Council's refusal to take part due to "the present conditions on the ground."

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working hard to re-start the talks, reportedly forcing the Syrian National Coalition to participate this time around and pushing a list of officials he wants to participate. 

A preparatory meeting is scheduled in London on Tuesday between the Syrian opposition and the "London 11," which includes the United States, Turkey, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Another source of uncertainty has been Iran's participation in the talks.

Kerry cast doubt on the idea on Monday in a statement to reporters after meeting with the Qatari Foreign Minister in Paris.

"It's hard to see how Iran can be constructive in the absence of their willingness to come for the purpose of the negotiation," he said. "If they accept Geneva I, and want to be constructive in helping to set up a transition government, that's a different issue."

Neither side in Syria appears any closer to negotiation. Assad's government has refused to consider any deal that would require the president to step down, while the rebel opposition is deeply divided internally.