Kurds won't attend Syria talks, Saudi-backed opponents to take lead: Fabius

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2016 4:04 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - Syrian Kurdish officials will not be invited to peace talks in Geneva, where negotiations for the opposition will be led by a Saudi-backed opposition group, France's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Laurent Fabius said United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura told him the Kurdish PYD party would not attend the talks, which are expected to start on Friday.

"The PYD group was causing the most problems, and Mr de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter," Laurent Fabius told France Culture radio.

De Mistura, who sent invitations on Tuesday without confirming the names, planned to make a statement on invitees later on Wednesday or on Thursday and would not comment beforehand, a spokeswoman for the UN official said.

International peace negotiations over Syria have been undermined by disputes over who should represent the opposition ever since the previous U.N. attempt to hold such talks in 2014, with Russia and Turkey both demanding different elements of the opposition are excluded.

Russia was in favor of inviting the PYD, whose military branch controls large areas of northern Syria. Its Kurdish leader told Reuters on Tuesday he had not been invited, in contrast to other Russia-backed opponents.

Fabius, who spoke to De Mistura on Tuesday, said the diplomat had also confirmed that a Riyadh-formed opposition group would lead negotiations though other opponents could also be present.

France has been a key backer of moderate opposition forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been advising them on how to prepare for the Geneva talks.

"I spoke to Mr (Riad) Hijab (opposition coordinator)... he will respond to De Mistura and (UN Secretary General) Ban ki-Moon this morning," Fabius said. "If I understand their position, they say yes to negotiations."

A senior French diplomat said that while the PYD and its allies would need to be part of a final political solution in Syria, including them now risked "exploding" the Saudi opposition platform.

"We have a coherent Riyadh platform. It considers that the PYD is not part of the opposition against the regime...," the diplomat said.

"The opposition has defined negotiating parameters and the first one is that Assad must go. From what I've seen that's not the position of the PYD."

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by James Regan and John Stonestreet)