Kerry (L) talks to Ban prior to the talks
Syria peace conference opens in Switzerland
Montreux, Switzerland, January 22, 2014
Syria's government and its enemies came face to face on Wednesday for the first time as a peace conference began in Switzerland which world powers hope can at least start a process to end three years of civil war.
There was immediate evidence of sharp differences, as US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that President Bashar Al-Assad must step down, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cautioned against outsiders meddling in Syria's affairs.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened what will be a day of speeches at Montreux on Lake Geneva from more than 40 delegations, including the opposing sides in Syria, by painting a bleak picture of the suffering of millions and of abuses of human rights by all the warring parties.
"Syrians must start talking to each other again," Ban said, urging both sides to reach a comprehensive settlement based on the UN Geneva Communique, under which world powers called in 2012 for a transitional government to oversee change in Syria.
"There is no alternative to ending the violence ... I appeal to all of you to show greater vision for humanity."
Calling the challenges ahead great but not insurmountable, he called for immediate access for aid to areas under siege.
Western powers and Russia have sought to set aside their own sharp differences over whether Assad must be forced to make way for an interim administration and have backed the conference as a way to stop the spread of communal and sectarian violence spreading across the region.
The conference, which Ban hopes will be followed by further talks in Geneva, has raised no great expectations, particularly among Islamist rebels on Syria's frontlines who have branded Western-backed opposition leaders as traitors for even agreeing to be in the same room as Assad's delegates.
Underlining the seemingly intractable positions, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem said on Tuesday that Assad's position was non-negotiable. "The subject of the president and the regime is a red line for us and the Syrian people and will not be touched," he was quoted as saying in Syrian media.
Lavrov, co-sponsor of the conference with Kerry, repeated Moscow's opposition to "outside players" meddling in Syria's affairs but he also said Iran - Assad's main foreign backer - should have a say.
Kerry, in his brief speech to the floor, said negotiations would be "tough and complicated" but insisted there was "no way" Assad could stay on with a transitional government.
"One man can no longer hold an entire nation or region hostage," Kerry said, while also adding there would be no room in government for "terrorists" among the rebel forces.
Assad backer Iran was not present. A last-minute invitation from Ban to attend was revoked on Monday after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott the talks, since Iran shares Assad's view that he should not lose power. - Reuters
More INTERNATIONAL NEWS Stories
- Gold drops as US growth optimism weighs
- Merkel raps Putin; Russia tightens grip on Crimea
- World 'at sea' over missing Malaysian jetliner
- Passports requiring probe were on Malaysia flight
- 40 killed in Yemen as Houthi fighters near capital
- Vietnam finds object in sea; search on
- $5bn poll spend to boost India economy
- Libya authorises use of force against Korean tanker
- Ukraine PM says he will go to US to discuss crisis
- Syrian journalist killed covering fighting
- Malaysian jet may have turned back before vanishing
- No sign of missing plane; Malaysia probes false passports
- Two Europeans not on board 'missing' Malaysian jet
- China draws red line on North Korea
- Saudi sentences three to death for 2003 bombing
- First bitcoin machine opens in UK
- US sanctions will boomerang, warns Russia
- China plans $50bn bank to fund projects
- Sony to sell Tokyo 'birthplace'
- Obama orders sanctions over Russian moves
- Crimea parliament votes to join Russia
- Arab League to be revamped
- 'Upskirting' is legal: Massachusetts court
- Singapore probes 'unnatural' death of bitcoin trader
- Onus on world powers for Syria war crimes: UN
- US, Russia set for talks on Ukraine crisis
- Brent oil drops below $109
- Services outshine manufacturing, pushing up jobs
- Bitcoin bank shut down after hacker attack
- India to kick off world's biggest poll on April 7