Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Sunday peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria would take place on November 23 in Geneva. “I discussed the Syria file with Lakhdar Brahimi and it was decided that the Geneva meeting would take place on November 23 and arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference,” Elaraby told reporters in Cairo after a meeting with Brahimi, the international envoy for Syria.
But at the same news conference, Brahimi said: “The date has not been officially set.”
A senior Syrian official said last week that the long-delayed conference was scheduled for November 23 and 24, but co-organisers Russia and the United States said no date had been set.
International efforts to stop the bloodshed in the two-and-a-half year conflict in Syria have stuttered, but a deal reached last month for Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons arsenal rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed “Geneva 2”.
A deeply divided opposition is, however, reluctant to attend, and President Bashar al-Assad’s government said it would not consider any deal that required the president to step down. Najib Ghadbian, the opposition coalition’s US representative, said an important component of the coalition had decided against taking part, but said other members of the umbrella group could still decide to go, assuming Assad was not there.
Brahimi, who earlier said there would be no preconditions to attending the peace talks, said on Sunday a conference could not be convened without a “convincing opposition that represents Syria’s opposition population”.
Saudis reject Security Council seat Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia turned down a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council on Friday in a rare display of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.
The kingdom condemned what it called international double standards on the Middle East and demanded reforms in the Security Council, which has been at odds on ways to end the fighting in Syria.
Unlike in the past, when Riyadh’s frustration was mostly directed at Russia and China, it is now also aimed at Washington, its oldest international ally, which has pursued policies since the Arab Spring that Saudi rulers have bitterly opposed. Citing the Security Council’s failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, take steps to end Syria’s civil war and stop nuclear proliferation in the region, Riyadh said the body had instead perpetuated conflicts and grievances.
“Saudi Arabia … is refraining from taking membership of the UN Security Council until it has reformed so it can effectively and practically perform its duties and discharge its responsibilities in maintaining international security and peace,” said a Foreign Ministry statement.
A founding member of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia was one of five countries elected by the body’s General Assembly on Thursday to serve a two-year term on the 15-member Security Council. The council, which has power to authorise military action, impose sanctions and set up peacekeeping operations, has 10 rotating members. The United States, China, Russia, France and Britain are permanent members, which wield a veto.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had not received any official notification from Saudi Arabia rejecting its first-ever seat on the council. A decision of such magnitude would have to have been taken by King Abdullah or Crown Prince Salman, said a Saudi analyst who asked not to be identified.
“Saudi Arabia has been working on [the council seat] for the last three years. They trained diplomats, male and female, the cream of the Foreign Ministry, our best talented youths. Then somebody made the decision suddenly to pull out,” he said.
In a single previous example of a council member walking away from the body, the Soviet Union in 1950 boycotted its permanent seat for half a year in protest at Taiwan’s occupation of the Chinese place instead of Beijing.
Blood-drenched images of Syria’s civil war, in which more than 100 000 have died and in which millions have been displaced, are aired daily on Saudi news and the kingdom has backed the rebels with arms and money.
Saudi anger boiled over after Assad escaped US-led military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus by agreeing to give up his chemical arsenal.
“There are people being killed every day, every hour. And the Muslim world is very angry because we don’t see any action or any strong stance from the Security Council towards this situation,” said Abdullah al-Askar, foreign affairs committee chairperson in the kingdom’s quasi-parliament, the Shoura Council.