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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrives in Switzerland for talks

Jan. 21, 2014 at 4:44 PM   |   Comments

MONTREUX, Switzerland, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Switzerland Tuesday to meet with participants of two groups discussing a political end to Syria's bloody civil war.

Ban, who will open the conference in the Swiss resort of Montreux Wednesday, met with the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Aston in Geneva to discuss the crisis, including efforts to bring humanitarian relief to those who need it, the United Nations said in a release.

After meeting with Aston, Ban flew to Montreux, where representatives of 40 countries and organizations were to meet Wednesday.

Ban's shuttle diplomacy was to resume Friday in Geneva for talks at U.N. headquarters in what will be the first time the Syrian government and opposition meet at a negotiating table since the conflict started in March 2011.

The basis of the discussions is implementation of an action plan adopted in the so-called Geneva Communique of 2012, which calls for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections in Syria.

Participants will also try to reach agreement for humanitarian aid to flow into a country where more than 100,000 people have died and more than 8 million people have been driven from their homes since the fighting began between President Bashar Assad's government and rebels seeking his ouster.

The Montreux meeting is to give international support to the efforts to resolve the deadly conflict while the Geneva talks will be restricted to the two Syrian delegations and the U.N.-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations said.

The meeting in Montreux, on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps, is to begin with addresses by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"There are elements inside the regime itself, among its supporters, that are anxious to find a peaceful solution, and we've gotten plenty of messages from people inside -- they want a way out," State Department official told the New York Times.

"That's the whole point of their going to Geneva," the official added, referring to Syrian opposition officials. "To promote the alternative, the alternative vision."

Syria has said its intention for the talks is fighting "terrorism." The regime uses that term to describe the armed opposition.

Assad has also said he would not step down or share power with the opposition.

"I don't think that anyone who's dealt with Syrian officials has any false expectations of rapid progress," the State Department official told the Times.

"This is the beginning of a process. It is not going to be fast," the official said.

There is no target date for completing the peace talks or for establishing a transitional administration if Assad agrees to relinquish power, U.S. officials say.

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