Syrian President Bashar Assad Getty Images
Hide Caption

Russia: Assad mulling open humanitarian access

a a a a
Share this story

 PARIS (AP) -- Syria's government and the opposition have agreed to consider opening humanitarian access in the run-up to a peace conference that would bring the sides together for the first time, the top diplomats for Russia and the U.S. said Monday.

Speaking in the midst of a two-day series of meetings in Paris, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also said they were pressing for a cease-fire and prisoner exchange between the warring sides.

But Syria's government derided the meetings in Paris, saying in a statement they were "closer to illusions than reality and taken by people who are detached from reality and extremely far from any acceptable political logic." Russia has been one of Syria's closest allies.

And Lavrov questioned whether the Western-backed opposition - which has not yet agreed to attend peace talks and has limited influence inside Syria - was willing or able to carry out agreements in the face of intense infighting that has pitted al-Qaida-linked militants against more moderate factions. Nearly 700 rebel fighters have died in recent days.

"There are many terrorists in in Syria and they are becoming more numerous," Lavrov said. "When we talk about the need for a cease-fire, to unblock as many settlements as possible to provide humanitarian access, all those factors are taken into account. ... We do not want a cease-fire which would be used by terrorist groups. Because that would be against the interests of everyone."

The opposition Syrian National Coalition, nearing collapse, is in disarray ahead of the Jan. 22 talks and the Paris meetings were intended to pressure it to attend. But Kerry said the opposition had nonetheless agreed to consider a cease-fire, prisoner exchange and to facilitate humanitarian access to the thousands of people trapped behind battle lines.

Kerry acknowledged that "terrorists greatly complicated this equation," but warned that "If disorder is allowed to continue to grow, it is extremists who will benefit, and all the people who want peace and stability who will lose."

And while Kerry and Lavrov agreed on several points, their nations remained at an impasse on whether Iran, Syria's strongest ally, should attend the peace talks.

The Syrian National Coalition has struggled for credibility within Syria, as one rebel brigade after another has broken away and accused the exiled group of being out of touch.

The coalition is nearing collapse, with members split on whether to attend talks that would bring the opposition to the negotiating table with Syrian President Bashar Assad's representatives for the first time.

Kerry said he would welcome Iran's participation in the upcoming talks - but only if Tehran signs off on earlier diplomatic agreements that any transitional government in Syria would not include Assad or his close allies.

The U.N. did not invite Iran to the Jan. 22 peace conference and the U.S. has long maintained that it cannot participate if it does not agree with its guiding principles.

Lavrov, however, said Iran should attend, adding that some participants have rejected parts of the earlier agreement. He did not specify, but Assad's government, which is sending a delegation, has said the president will not surrender power and may run again in elections due later this year.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Print this article

Comments

Hmm... It looks like you’re not a WCPO Insider. or Subscribe now to contribute!

More World News
Everest avalanche a reminder of risk for Sherpas
Everest avalanche a reminder of risk for Sherpas

The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared…

Student fought bureaucrats for Holocaust justice
Student fought bureaucrats for Holocaust justice

After beginning her crusade in 2011, Charlotte van den Berg has possibly won a battle for Jewish Holocaust survivors against Amsterdam. The…

Sub search for missing jet to be finished soon
Sub search for missing jet to be finished soon

A robotic submarine looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is expected to finish searching a patch of the Indian Ocean seabed within a…

Pope leads torch-lit Good Friday procession
Pope leads torch-lit Good Friday procession

Pope Francis is presiding over a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum marking Good Friday in Rome.

Arrest warrant issued for Korean ferry captain
Arrest warrant issued for Korean ferry captain

Prosecutors say they've asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for the captain of the South Korean ferry that sank two days ago,…

Christians mark Good Friday in the Holy Land
Christians mark Good Friday in the Holy Land

Christians in the Holy Land are commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Good Friday prayers and processions through Jerusalem's…

PHOTOS: Prince George takes first trip
PHOTOS: Prince George takes first trip

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge take a royal trip to New Zealand and…

Brewers seek to rekindle Belgium's love of beer
Brewers seek to rekindle Belgium's love of beer

The ruby lettering on the front of the old corner pub "In de Welkom" has peeled almost beyond recognition. Owner Leza Wauters, a…

Ukrainian militia deny calls to free buildings
Ukrainian militia deny calls to free buildings

Pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine's east who have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities say they will only leave…

Rescuers rush to reach hundreds in SKorean ferry
Rescuers rush to reach hundreds in SKorean ferry

Rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of ferry passengers still missing Friday and feared dead, as fresh questions emerged about whether…