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Diplomatic Progress as Syria Opposition Groups Agree on Joint Principles

Though not all groups present at the talks were pleased, optimism resulted as political and military groups seek avenue to settlement

It is the first time most of the main rebel groups have been involved in peace moves. (Photo: Reuters)


Efforts towards a negotiated diplomatic settlement for the war in Syria made some progress on Thursday as members of various political and military opposition groups ended two days of meetings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia by saying some agreements on basic principles have been reached.

As Reuters reports:

The meeting came amid escalating conflict in Syria and accelerated diplomacy to find a political solution to the war.

Delegates from Islamist insurgent groups, exiled political opposition figures and Damascus-based activists gathered to bridge differences which have plagued previous attempts to unite Assad's opponents around a common strategy.

Monzer Akbik, a member of the National Coalition opposition group, said the conference agreed to set up a 32-member secretariat to oversee and supervise peace talks. The statement said that body would select the negotiating team.

Participants also committed to a political system which "represents all sectors of the Syrian people", and would not discriminate on religious or sectarian grounds - in a gesture towards minority Alawite, Christian and Kurdish populations.

Not all groups present at the talks, however, were content with the terms of the proposed framework. As the Washington Post reports,

The unusual display of unity was marred, however, by a walkout by the biggest and most radical of the rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham, which objected to the role given to a Damascus-based opposition group and “other pro-regime personalities,” as well as the failure of the statement of principles to make reference to Syria’s “Islamic identity,” according to a statement issued by the group.

Representatives of Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist Islamist group that has cooperated closely with al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate in the past, later returned to the conference amid signs that the group was split over whether to continue participating in the process.

Expressing cautious optimism about the reported progress in Riyadh, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, acknowledged the amount of tough work that remains but said the U.S. remains "determined to continue toward a political settlement that brings an end the conflict."

On Friday, trilateral talks will take place in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, and the United Nations over the conflict in Syria, where President Putin and President Obama have staked out very different prioritities but have spurred optimism among outside observers for showing a new willingness to foster a diplomatic process among the warring factions. Neither Kerry nor his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, will participate in the Geneva talks, but are expected to meet in Moscow next week.

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