- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2013

The main Syrian opposition coalition meets in Istanbul Thursday for three days of talks, including a key decision whether or not to attend a Russia- and U.S.-backed peace conference with the Syrian government in Geneva next month.

Syrian National Coalition member Louay Safi told Voice of America Thursday the group still has questions about the talks, but remains adamantly opposed to allowing President Bashar Assad to take any part in a future Syrian government.

“We have a lot of unknowns about the Geneva conference,” Mr. Safi said. “I mean, we are for any conference that helps transition the situation into an elective government away from the dictatorship, but that will be our condition — we are not going to accept any negotiations that do not indicate that Assad is going to be out.”

The coalition’s meeting in Turkey follows a statement of support for the Geneva plan from international backers of the Syrian rebels who met Wednesday in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the conference.

In their statement, the 11-nation Friends of Syria group stressed the need for a political resolution in Syria, led by a transitional government that would not include Mr. Assad, members of his government or associates with “blood on their hands,” VOA reported.

Russia has called for Iran to be included in the Geneva talks, but U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday accused Iran of perpetuating Mr. Assad’s “campaign of terror” by sending fighters to help Hezbollah militants fight alongside Syrian troops.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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