May 22, 2013
Syrian opposition chief to meet US, Russia and UN
The leader of the Syrian opposition was expected to meet US, Russian and UN officials at a Munich conference which may provide a rare chance to overcome differences on how to end Syria's civil war.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, head of the Syrian National Coalition Moaz Alkhatib, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a round of meetings - but apparently not all at the same table, as the opposition had hoped.
Biden lamented the lack of international agreement - between Washington and Moscow in particular - on how to resolve Syria's crisis. But he said nobody could doubt "the increasingly desperate plight of the Syrian people and the responsibility of the international community to address that plight".
Government forces and rebels clashed again in several areas of Syria including around Damascus but there were no reports of casualties, according to activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Biden stressed the need to make the Syrian opposition "more inclusive and cohesive", as dramatized by a challenge on Friday to Alkhatib's authority after he broke ranks to say he would be willing to meet Syrian officials to discuss a transition if political prisoners arrested in the revolt were freed.
The Syrian opposition had raised hopes that there could be three-way or four-way meetings at the Munich Security Conference with the United States, Russia and United Nations on Saturday, but U.N. and Russian officials rushed to play this down.
"Media reports of a meeting in Munich in the format of Lavrov-Biden-Brahimi and Syrian opposition representative Alkhatib do not correspond with reality," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.
Russia's Interfax news agency cited a Russian source as saying that Lavrov would meet Alkhatib.
Syrian National Coalition politburo member Sadereddine al Bayanouni from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, who was part of the Syrian opposition delegation in Munich, told Reuters he would also attend the meeting with Biden.
"We will explain our views to them and see," he said.
Syrian opposition figure Hassan Bali, in Munich as an independent observer, called the meeting with Biden "a big signal from the Americans" that they were upgrading support for the rebels. But there was no immediate word from the U.S. delegation on whether that was the case.