Assad government is 'ready to take part in Geneva meetings'

THE Syrian government has confirmed for the first time that it is ready to attend peace talks with the opposition in Geneva later this month.

"Syria is ready to take part in Geneva meetings at the appointed time," foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in a meeting in Damascus with UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, according to state run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

However, al-Moallem's focus was still on fighting terrorism. The Assad government wants to review lists drawn up of participants distinguishing between "terrorist organisations" and those from the "Syrian opposition sides" who will partake in the talks.

In a reference to the prevalence of external powers exacerbating the conflict in Syria, al-Moallem also stated that the "relevant resolutions are linked to the credibility of the efforts of fighting terrorism which require forcing the countries which support terrorism to stop backing it," according to SANA.

A statement Saturday from Mr De Mistura's office described his meeting with Mr al-Moallem as "useful" and said the UN envoy is "looking forward to the active participation of all relevant parties" in the upcoming talks.

Mr De Mistura has also been meeting with members of the Syrian opposition in Saudi Arabia, which has been a major supporter of some rebel groups aimed at removing Assad from power.

The Syrian opposition is demanding some gestures by the government ahead of the talks including lifting sieges imposed on rebel-held areas, releasing some detainees and ending airstrikes. 

The Syrian opposition sees Bashar al Assad remaining in power as incompatible with their goals.

UN talks have been scheduled for 25th January to reboot efforts to end the Syrian civil war, following a resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council in December endorsing a transitional plan for Syria.

Attempted peace talks in 2014 failed to bring about meaningful change.

The Syrian conflict has so far killed over 250,000 and displaced millions, causing a refugee crisis in its border nations and reaching as far as Europe.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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