MOSCOW, October 17 (RIA Novosti) – An international peace conference on Syria backed by Russia and the United States will take place on November 23-24, a senior Syrian governmental official said Thursday.
The Geneva-2 conference will proceed despite leading Syrian opposition groups’ continuing reluctance to participate, Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said at a press conference in Moscow.
The conference is meant to bring the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table in hope of ending the 2 1/2-year-long civil strife in the Middle Eastern country, which has cost at least 100,000 lives to date, according to UN figures.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could neither confirm nor dismiss Jamil’s statement. He added that the dates for Geneva-2 will be chosen and announced by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
As of Thursday afternoon, Moscow time, the UN Secretary General had not responded publicly to the Syrian official’s comments.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that the long-delayed Geneva-2 conference was tentatively scheduled for mid-November, but gave no exact date.
The prospects for the conference have seemingly dimmed in recent weeks, with representatives of Syria’s increasingly fractured opposition voicing reluctance to attend.
The list included representatives of the main insurgent groups on the ground such as the Islamist al-Nusra Front and the moderate Free Syrian Army, as well as the Syrian National Council, the core of the opposition’s main political body, the internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition.
However, Jamil said the conference will proceed regardless of a possible boycott by the rebels.
“The Syrian National Council’s refusal to participate in the Geneva-2 would not affect the timeframe and format of the conference,” he said.
“They will likely change their decision,” Jamil added.
He did not specify the reasons for his optimism, but a UN diplomat earlier told RIA Novosti on condition of anonymity that the United Nations was working to convince the Syrian National Council to attend Geneva-2.
Jamil also denied rumors at the press conference that Syrian chemical weapons are being shipped out of the country for disposal. “Everything is being destroyed on site,” he said.
Syria's chemical weapon stocks, believed to include VX, Sarin and Soman nerve agents, are to be destroyed by mid-2014 by a UN-led international mission. Damascus agreed to give up its chemical weapons in order to prevent airstrikes by the United States, which accused the Syrian government of using them to kill civilians earlier this year and vowed to retaliate.
The story was rewritten to add Russian Foreign Ministry's comment, background, Jamil's statement on chemical weapons.