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Syrian opposition still not committed to peace talks: Iran

Iran's Deputy Minister for Arab and Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian attends a news conference in Moscow, September 10, 2013. REUTER
Iran's Deputy Minister for Arab and Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian attends a news conference in Moscow, September 10, 2013. REUTER

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Iran believes an international peace conference on Syria can be held soon but that Syrian opposition groups have yet to commit fully to the meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Tuesday.

The United Nations hopes the "Geneva 2" conference, which Moscow and Washington are trying to arrange, can convene in mid-December to try to end more than 2-1/2 years of civil war in Syria.

The proposed conference has been delayed for months by dissension within opposition ranks, disagreements over whether President Bashar al-Assad should play any future role in Syria and disputes over whether Iran should be invited.

Russia wants Iran to take part but the United States, Saudi Arabia and the main opposition Syrian National Coalition have been against this. Amir-Abdollahian did not make clear after his meetings in Moscow whether progress had been made on this issue.

He said he had had "very important and useful" talks with Russia Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as well as a Syrian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

"It seems we are nearing the holding of the Geneva 2 conference," Amir-Abdollahian told a news conference via a translator, but added: "We believe there is still no full readiness among the (Syrian) opposition to take part."

Russia and Iran have been Assad's staunchest supporters in his struggle to crush an uprising which began in March 2011 with peaceful protests whose violent suppression eventually ignited an armed insurrection that has cost well over 100,000 lives.

U.S. and Russian envoys are due to meet international Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on November 25 to discuss prospects for the Geneva peace conference, which is supposed to build on an agreement forged by world powers in the same city in June 2012.

That conference called for a political transition in Syria, but left open the question of whether Assad would have any role.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alistair Lyon)

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