Syrian opposition undecided on peace talks

Members of the main Syrian opposition group say they have postponed a vote on whether or not to attend a peace conference in Switzerland this month.

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The Syrian National Coalition had been expected to decide on Tuesday whether or not to attend the so-called Geneva peace conference, which is to open January 22 in the Swiss city of Montreux.

But coalition officials say that amid sharp disagreement over the issue, the vote was postponed until at least the middle of next week.

That would be less than a week before the conference.

Hadi Al Bahra, a member of the coalition’s political committee, said the vote could happen as early as the January 15.

Al Bahra said that many members are angry that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has not agreed to the principles from an earlier peace conference that called for a transitional government in Syria.

Assad’s government has said the president will not surrender power and may run again in elections due later this year.

The possibility that Iran, which has strongly backed Assad, might join the talks also has provoked disagreement within the coalition.

Though Iran was not among the recipients of invitations to the conference sent by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday, his spokesman has said that Ban favours inviting Iran.

Abdulrahman Alhaj, a member of the Syrian National Council, which is an influential block within the coalition, said that sharp disagreement over attending the talks could fracture the coalition.

“If that happens, there won’t be a Geneva conference,” said Alhaj, who is not a member of the coalition.

“We need a credible, united opposition to go to Geneva.”

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