Syrian opposition group backs out of talks with government officials

The New York Times reports: The main Syrian exile opposition group refused on Friday to attend a meeting in Moscow that would have brought it face to face with Syrian government officials for the first time, albeit in an informal, technical gathering to address the country’s humanitarian crisis.

The refusal drew sharp criticism from Moscow, which blames the opposition group for paralyzing diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war with its insistence that President Bashar al-Assad step down as a precondition for any talks. That includes the negotiations known as Geneva II that Russia and the United States are struggling to arrange, so far without success.

The American-backed exile group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, issued a statement denouncing Russia for inviting other opponents of Mr. Assad that it considers too close to the government, including some who have declared they are more willing to compromise.

Many in the opposition — including, but not limited to, the National Coalition — view Russia’s efforts to involve such groups as a ploy to bolster Mr. Assad.

But independent analysts monitoring the conflict see the prospects of Mr. Assad stepping down ahead of talks as increasingly unrealistic, and as Washington shifts its focus to disarming Syria of its chemical weapons, there is little sign that it will provide significant enough military support to the rebels to change the president’s calculus. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis is deepening, with nine million Syrians forced from their homes, about 40 percent of the population, and more than 100,000 dead. [Continue reading…]

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