Chemical mission boss in Syria as pressure for talks mounts
Damascus: The head of an international mission to destroy Damascus`s chemical arsenal arrived today in Syria, where the regime pressed on with deadly strikes despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts to organise peace talks.
"Today, the Special Coordinator, Ms Sigrid Kaag arrived in Damascus," to head up a joint mission of the United Nations and the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Dutch UN official leads a team tasked with inspecting more than 20 sites by the end of the month and destroying Syria`s chemical stockpiles by mid-2014 under a US-Russian deal.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting Arab League representatives in Paris ahead of a Tuesday meeting in London of the opposition and its Western and Arab backers.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Baghdad that all countries "with interests and influence in the Syrian affair must participate" in the Geneva 2 peace conference.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the same news conference that "everyone is now convinced that (a) political and peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis is the available option" for "the interest of the Syrian people".
Brahimi said, during a visit to Cairo yesterday, that he hoped the talks would be held next month, but warned they cannot go ahead without the attendance of a "credible opposition".
The veteran troubleshooter has said he will also travel to Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Syria and then Geneva for talks with Russian and US representatives.
A pro-regime daily in Syria said he was expected this week in Damascus, where he came under heavy criticism from the regime for suggesting a transitional government after his last visit in 2012.
Washington and Moscow have been trying to organise the conference on the heels of the deal they reached for the destruction of Syria`s chemical weapons.
But the opposition has been fiercely critical of the agreement -- which averted US strikes on the regime following a sarin gas attack in August that killed hundreds of people -- and at least one major faction, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has already refused to go to Geneva.
The opposition has also demanded that President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of any agreement, while the regime has insisted his exit is not on the table.
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