Last-ditch Syria peace talks set for January

Last-ditch Syrian peace talks backed by the U.S. and Russia have been scheduled for Jan. 22, after months of delay, the United Nations announced Monday. 

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate MORE first broached the possibility of a peace conference in May after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Since then, the talks have been repeatedly pushed back amid disagreements over who should attend and whether Syrian President Bashar Assad could remain in power after almost three years of civil war.

“The Secretary-General is pleased to announce that he will convene the Geneva conference on Syria in Geneva on Wednesday, January 22,” Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement, “thus bringing the Syrian Government and opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the start of the Syrian conflict.”

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The breakthrough was made possible after the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted earlier this month to attend the talks. The Syrian National Coalition is demanding that Assad step down, but the Obama administration says that should be the outcome of any political settlement, not a precondition for convening the talks.

Britain praised the news of a summit.

“A negotiated political transition in Syria is the only way to end the conflict and alleviate Syria’s humanitarian crisis,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. “I am determined to ensure that the political process includes a direct role for women’s groups, and we will work closely with the UN and the international community to make this a reality.”

Here's the full readout from the U.N.: 

Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Convening of the Geneva conference on Syria

The Secretary-General is pleased to announce that he will convene the Geneva conference on Syria in Geneva on Wednesday, January 22, thus bringing the Syrian Government and opposition to a negotiating table for the first time since the start of the Syrian conflict. 

The Secretary-General expresses deep appreciation to the Initiating States, the Governments of the Russian Federation and the United States, as well as to other Member States and Joint Special Representative Brahimi for their hard work that has brought us to this point. 

We will go to Geneva with a mission of hope. The Geneva conference is the vehicle for a peaceful transition that fulfills the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people for freedom and dignity, and which guarantees safety and protection to all communities in Syria.  Its goal is the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, including the establishment, based on mutual consent, of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities. 

The Secretary-General expects that the Syrian representatives will come to Geneva with a clear understanding that this is the objective, and with a serious intention to end a war that has already left well over 100,000 dead, driven almost nine million from their homes, left countless missing and detained, sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens on Syria’s neighbors. 

Noting the Security Council's endorsement of the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué in Resolution 2118 (2013), the Secretary-General will expect all regional and international partners to demonstrate their meaningful support for constructive negotiations. All must show vision and leadership. All can begin working now to take steps to help the Geneva conference succeed, including toward the cessation of violence, humanitarian access, release of detainees and return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced to their homes.   

The conflict in Syria has raged for too long. It would be unforgivable not to seize this opportunity to bring an end to the suffering and destruction it has caused.

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