Syria opposition under pressure
to attend Geneva II talks

Syrian National Coalition meeting. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

BEIRUT - Syria's opposition National Coalition is facing international pressure to attend a January 22 peace conference in Switzerland, but is in a major crisis over participation, members said Thursday.


The pressure to attend the so-called "Geneva II" talks comes ahead of a Sunday meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria, which groups countries that back the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.


"There have been clear signs indicating the Coalition must go to Geneva," said veteran opponent and Coalition member Samir Nashar.


"But on the ground, the Coalition's legitimacy is shaken. The entire revolutionary movement in Syria is against Geneva," Nashar told AFP.


Syria's main rebel groups have warned opponents against attending the talks and against any negotiation with Assad's regime.


And the main bloc within the Coalition -- the Syrian National Council -- has said it will withdraw from the group if its general assembly decides to attend the peace meeting.


The Coalition was supposed to decide on its participation last weekend but postponed its decision until January 17, just five days before the talks in the Swiss town of Montreux are scheduled.


Divisions within the group became so deep that five members resigned during the weekend meetings and another 40 "withdrew," said Nashar.


"Should the Coalition decide to go to the talks, even more will pull out," he added.


Munzer Aqbiq, an adviser to the Coalition's presidency, also said the group is "under pressure" to go to the talks, which would see regime and opposition representatives at the negotiating table in a bid to end Syria's nearly three-year war.


"But it is a positive kind of pressure," Aqbiq said, adding that he expected the Friends of Syria to "push for Geneva, to tell the opposition we must attend if we want a transition, or a transitional governing body, to which Assad would hand over all executive powers."


The Geneva communique reached in June 2012 envisaged a transition for Syria, but did not specify whether Assad should leave.


Assad and his supporters say the Geneva II talks should be held without preconditions, but the opposition and its backers say a transition must lead to Assad's fall.


Aqbiq also said previous calls by the Coalition for "confidence-building measures" by Assad's regime have gone unheeded.


"The regime has escalated the violence hugely in recent weeks, killing hundreds in air raids over Aleppo," he said.


Aqbiq also said he expected Sunday's meeting in Paris to produce a statement "similar to the London communique" issued in October last year.


That statement, issued after a meeting of the Friends of Syria, called for a transition to a "democratic, pluralistic" Syria that was "respectful of human rights and the rule of law."

Syrian National Coalition meeting. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

There have been clear signs indicating the Coalition must go to Geneva.