‘Syria will not make new concessions at talks’

The Syrian government will not make new concessions in future peace talks.

Hilal al-Hilal, a senior official in Syrian president Bashar Assad’s ruling Baath party, made the comments to state media ahead of talks due to take place in Geneva to work on ending Syria’s nearly five-year conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people.

The talks, which were to begin today but will likely be delayed, are part of a UN plan that envisions an 18-month timetable for a political transition.

The Syrian opposition says Assad should have no role in Syria’s future, even during a transitional period. Assad, whose family has governed Syria for over four decades, has said he will only step down if voted out.

US secretary of state John Kerry said he was confident the talks would proceed, after he held talks with Gulf Co-operation Council states in Saudi Arabia.

“We are confident talks can get going and that the UN representative special envoy, Staffan De Mistura, will be convening people in an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the first meeting in Geneva,” he told reporters in Riyadh.

Kerry said major countries would convene after the first round of negotiations.

‘Syria will not make new concessions at talks’

“I won’t announce a date, but we all agreed that immediately after completion of the first round of the Syria discussions, the International Syria Support Group will convene, and that will be very shortly, because we want to keep the process moving,” he said.

Peace efforts face huge underlying challenges, among them disagreements over president Bashar al-Assad’s future and worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Tensions between the two regional rivals escalated this month after the Saudi execution of a Shi’ite Muslim cleric. That triggered an attack by Iranian protesters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran embassy, leading the kingdom to cut diplomatic ties.

“None of us are under any illusions that obstacles don’t still exist to trying to seek a political settlement in Syria,” Kerry said. “We know its tough. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.”

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country was working with the US to find ways to remove Assad from power. He downplayed any change in US-Iran relations after an agreement with world powers on Iran’s nuclear programme led them to lift sanctions.


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