Friends of Syria agree no future for Assad and family

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - Mr Ahmad Jarba, the leader of Syria's opposition National Coalition, said on Sunday that the US-led "Friends of Syria" grouping had agreed that President Bashar al-Assad and his family will have no role in the country's future.

Mr Jarba did not announce whether or not the opposition would take part in peace talks with representatives of Mr Assad's regime due to start next week in Switzerland. The Coalition, which is under intense pressure to confirm its participation, has said it will decide on the issue on Jan 17.

On Sunday, Friends of Syria, an alliance of mainly Western and Gulf Arab countries who support the Syrian opposition, called on them to attend peace talks in Switzerland later this month.

"We urge the National Coalition to respond positively to the invitation to set up the Syrian opposition delegation sent by the U.N. Secretary General," the group said in a joint statement.

"We invite them to form, as soon as possible, a delegation of opposition forces to participate in the political process."

"We are at a crossroads today in the framework of international decisions regarding the Syrian revolution," Mr Jarba said.

"We have passed a milestone on the way to the end of the regime."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius implicitly acknowledged that it was still uncertain that the opposition would be represented at the so-called Geneva II peace talks scheduled to start on January 22 in Montreux.

"It is important that the Geneva II meeting takes place and succeeds," Mr Fabius said. "The only solution to the Syrian drama is a political solution."

In a statement issued at the end of Sunday's talks, the 11-nation Friends of Syria urged the opposition to respond positively to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's invitation to send a delegation to the Montreux talks.

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