Syrian government looking for partnership at upcoming conference

June 24, 2013 at 5:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- Syria's foreign minister said his country wants a successful outcome at the upcoming Switzerland conference on Syria, but will not cater to the opposition..

"We will head to the [Geneva] conference seriously to reach a halt of violence and terrorism that we deem as a popular demand," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Monday at a news conference.

The conference, initially scheduled to take place in July, is expected to be attended by Syrian government officials, as well as opposition group leaders and is aimed at settling the more than 2-year-long civil war taking place in Syria, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.

However, the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, said it would only participate in the conference if Syrian President Bashar Assad agrees to step down.

"As a state, we are going to Geneva carrying with us directives from President Bashar al-Assad to make the conference a success," Muallem said, adding that "President Assad will not step down and whoever placed this condition, may he never come" to the conference.

"We are not going to hand over the authority to the other part and whoever thinks so, is delusional," Muallem said, stressing that the Syrian government is "ready to discuss the mechanisms of curbing the violence and the armament and training of the armed rebels."

Muallem added that his government would not accept any foreign-imposed solutions and "will never even accept thoughts that are imposed from outside. The dialogue is between the Syrians themselves."

Meanwhile, Russian officials strongly condemned a decision by a U.S.-led group that plans to arm the Syrian rebels as a step that only ensures more bloodshed, RIA Novosti reported.

Russia, a close Syrian ally, has backed the Assad regime and opposed international action to support Assad's ouster.

Eleven countries -- the United States, Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey -- said they will immediately begin arming the rebel forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad after evidence presented by Western countries appeared to show Assad had unleashed chemical weapons on his own people despite U.N. inspectors who said U.S. laboratory testing to verify Assad used chemical weapons on the opposition is not verifiable.

The United States announced last week it is expanding military support to Syrian rebels after three months of testing to determine Assad used chemical weapons in January, killing 100 to 150 people.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in August if Assad used chemical weapons it would cross a "red line" and would draw a U.S. response.

The United States, Britain and France supplied the United Nations with what they say is evidence proving Assad used chemical weapons, but U.N. inspectors doubt the authenticity of the samples tested because they were smuggled out of the country, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

"You can try your best to control the analysis but analysis at a distance is always uncertain," said David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector.

U.N. policy is that its own inspectors must collect soil and other samples to prove the use of chemical weapons themselves. Smuggled evidence could have been tampered with by the opposition, the Post reported.

"If you are the opposition and you hear" [about Obama's red line] you have an interest in giving the impression that some chemical weapons have been used," said Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish scientist.

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