Russian, U.S., UN diplomats to continue preparations for Syria conference in Geneva

The next Russia-U.S.-UN meeting will be held on Tuesday as part of efforts to lay the groundwork for the Geneva II international conference on Syria.

The next Russia-U.S.-UN meeting will be held on Tuesday as part of efforts to lay the groundwork for the Geneva II international conference on Syria.

Deputy Foreign Ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov will lead Russia's delegation to the November 5 event. The U.S. delegation will be headed by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Ambassador Robert Ford, who was recalled from Damascus in February 2012. UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will attend the meeting as well.

Gatilov told Interfax earlier that the upcoming event would address all of the issues concerning the Geneva II conference, tentatively set for November 23, and Brahimi, for his part, might inform the other sides of the results of his recent trip to the region.

"The Russian delegation is going to Geneva with the most serious intentions," Gatilov said.

"We believe the main purpose of the meeting with our U.S. partners and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi is to continue constructive debate on all issues relating to the organization of the future international conference on Syria," he said.

Gatilov said that he and Bogdanov were also going to meet with members of the Syrian opposition in Geneva.

"We plan to hold a series of negotiations with representatives of the Syrian opposition on the sidelines of the consultations in Geneva. Such an agreement has already been achieved, and such contacts will take place," he said.

It will be the third Russia-U.S.-UN meeting held as part of preparations for the Geneva II conference. Bogdanov, Gatilov, Sherman, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones, UN Under Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman, and Brahimi attended the two previous meetings in this format in Geneva on June 5 and June 25.

However, steps to organize the Geneva II conference continue to encounter serious difficulties, including uncertainty surrounding Iran's participation in the event, a condition upon which Russia strongly insists, but which draws objections from the United States and other countries.

The number of Syrian opposition groups that refused to attend the Geneva II conference has grown recently. They include the Syrian National Council, the largest faction within the National Council for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and another 19 opposition groups.

The national coalition itself announced earlier that it would not send its delegation to the conference if the Geneva event was not intended to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The coalition's statement prompted Moscow to accuse the West of being unable to persuade the Syrian opposition to join these talks.

At the moment, Syria's possible representatives to the Geneva II conference include a delegation of Bashar al-Assad's government, as well as the Syrian Popular Front for Change and Liberation, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, and the National Coordination Committee, both of which represent Syria's so-called internal opposition.

Brahimi, for his part, said that the Geneva II conference would not take place if the Syrian opposition refused to participate in it.

At its meeting in London in the second half of October, the Friends of Syria group, which includes 11 states, failed to persuade the Syrian opposition to take part in the planned Geneva II event.

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