LONDON (AP) — Moderate opposition leaders seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad from power have not yet committed to negotiations to create a new government, America's top diplomat said Tuesday, casting new doubt on flagging hopes to end the civil war as quickly as possible.
A refusal by the Syrian National Coalition to participate in the diplomatic talks would further delay attempts by most of Syria's regional neighbors and the West to stop the bloodshed that has so far killed 100,000 people over the last 2½ years. It also could boost the legitimacy of Assad, who after stonewalling has told allies he is prepared to negotiate — despite a near-certainty that he would be removed from power as a result of the talks.
At the close of diplomatic meetings on the issue in London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he remains optimistic that the coalition would agree, potentially as soon as next week, to participate in talks tentatively set for late November in Geneva with members of Assad's government.
But he said the Western-backed Syrian opposition members have "to make up their own mind."
"None of us are going to pre-judge or pre-condition what they will choose to do in that process," Kerry said after the meetings of the diplomats from 11 Western and Mideast nations who are trying to broker a Syrian settlement.
Kerry's comments came after he met with the coalition's president, Ahmad al-Jarba, who attended the discussions.
Al-Jarba told reporters that the coalition does not want to negotiate with Assad directly or agree to negotiations without a set timetable. He also said he wanted only the SNC at the table to represent opposition — not extremist groups who have joined against Assad. And he objected to Iran's participation.