President of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al Jarba (centre), during a press confrence after a meeting of the ‘London 11’, the core group of the Friends of Syria, in London, yesterday.
LONDON: Western and Arab powers agreed with Syrian opposition leaders yesterday that President Bashar Al Assad should be excluded from any future government, but urged the rebels to take part in a peace conference in Geneva.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after a meeting in London that the rebels had to overcome their differences and commit themselves to the talks in the Swiss city that are due to take place in late November.
But a defiant Assad said he was willing to run for re-election in 2014, a move further likely to anger a key rebel group that has so far refused to take part in the Geneva 2 conference if regime figures are present.
Hague told a press conference after the meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria that they had agreed a “number of important steps” during a meeting with Ahmad Al Jarba, the head of the Syrian National Coalition.
“We are as clear as he is that Assad has no role in a peaceful and democratic Syria,” Hague said. US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the world to help find a negotiated settlement for Syria, adding that the country itself could disintegrate if more is not done.
“The only alternative to a negotiated settlement is continued if not increased killing,” Kerry told reporters.
“We believe that the state of war will simply lead to the implosion of the state of Syria.”
The London talks grouped Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates and the United States, together with Syrian opposition leaders. The Syrian National Council, a key member of Jarba’s Syrian National Coalition, has already said it opposes the Geneva conference and threatened to quit the umbrella opposition group if Assad’s regime takes part.
Hague said that Jarba had to “carry others with him” ahead of a meeting of leading rebel groups in early November, when they will decide whether or not to take part in the Geneva meeting.
He added: “Despite the enormous challenges faced by the Syrian opposition, we urged the National Coalition to commit itself fully to the Geneva 2 process, and lead and form the heart of any opposition delegation.”
In a communique after the meeting, the Friends of Syria agreed that when a transitional government was established “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.
“There must be accountability for acts committed during the present conflict.”
Notably absent from London’s meeting is key Syria ally Russia, which has dismissed such gatherings in the past, saying they do not represent all Syrian people.
Syria has so far “fully cooperated” in destroying its massive chemical arsenal, the chief of the joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and United Nations mission said.
“To date, the government of Syria has fully cooperated in supporting the work of the advance team and the OPCW-UN joint mission,” said mission chief Sigfrid Kaag in Damascus.
Kaag said that “by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Syrian government has indicated its commitment to the task” of destroying it arsenal.