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Syrian opposition pressured to negotiate



Published: Wed, October 23, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

BEIRUT

The U.S. and Europe are putting intense pressure on the main Syrian opposition group to attend a long-delayed peace conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war, even though agreeing to join the talks could irreparably split the already-fragmented opposition in exile.

The Syrian National Coalition appears to be getting support from its patrons in the Gulf for its demands of key guarantees before it consents to take part in peace talks. Chief among those backers is regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which is growing more frustrated with its American ally.

A meeting Tuesday between the Syrian opposition and 11 of its foreign supporters, including the U.S., provided a venue for Washington to press its case. But the coalition, which has been deeply frustrated by what it sees as the West’s paltry aid for the rebellion, did not bend. Instead, it presented a list of demands that made the already-slim chances of the peace talks going ahead look bleak at best.

The U.S. and Russia, which support opposing sides in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people, have been trying for months to bring the Syrian government and its opponents to the table for negotiations in Geneva aimed at ending the war. But with the fighting deadlocked, neither the regime of President Bashar Assad nor the rebels showed any interest in compromise, forcing the meeting to be repeatedly postponed.

The idea regained traction after the U.S.-Russian agreement last month for Syria to give up its chemical weapons after a deadly sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. With the West threatening military strikes, Syria quickly agreed to the deal.


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