Extremist groups hobble Syrian peace negotiations

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 18:02

Paris: Violent extremists seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad may instead have hurt negotiations to replace him, frustrating Western diplomats who continue to push for his ouster as a necessary part of a peace agreement in the Mideast nation`s bloody civil war.

Bolstered by infighting among Syrian opposition groups including some linked to al Qaeda that have jeopardised foreign aid.

US officials say Assad has a stronger grasp on power now than he did just months ago, when the US and Russia called for a new round of talks to settle the two and a half-year war that has killed more than 100,000 people. Still, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad`s recent gains do not assure his future in a new government.

How to persuade Assad to step down will be part of the focus Tuesday at a London meeting of 11 nations from the West and Mideast seeking a negotiated settlement to the war.

"I don`t know anybody who believes that the opposition will ever consent to Bashar al-Assad being part of that government," Kerry told reporters yesterday in Paris where he was participating in talks about another Mideast crisis, between Israel and Palestinian authorities.

"But I do not believe that it is dependent on whether you`re up or down," Kerry said. "There`s a human catastrophe awaiting the world if you can`t have a negotiated solution."

Extremist groups, including the al Qaeda-linked cross-border Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have hurt the credibility of the fractured opposition to Assad and drawn battle lines among once-allied rebel forces. As a result, that likely has boosted Assad`s confidence to resist yielding at the negotiating table, according to a second senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate discussions more candidly.

Britain`s Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that the longer the conflict drags on, the more sectarian it becomes.

"I am in no way glossing over or minimising the danger of extremism taking hold," he told the BBC yesterday as leaders gathered in London. "There are people fighting for extreme groups, not necessarily because of extreme views, but because that gives them access to weapons and training and so on - all the more reason why we have to help the moderate opposition in Syria."

In an interview yesterday, Assad questioned the legitimacy of the opposition and said the factors needed for a proposed peace conference to succeed do not yet exist.

"Who are the groups that will participate? What is their relation with the Syrian people? Do they represent the Syrian people or they represent the country that made them?" Assad said during an interview with Lebanon`s Al-Mayadeen TV. "There are many questions about the conference."

PTI

First Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 18:02

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