UN Security Council to meet Syria opposition group

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain is organizing an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday so members can exchange views with senior leaders of Syria’s main opposition group.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Tuesday that the delegation from the Syrian National Coalition will be led by Ahmed al-Jarba, president of the Western-backed umbrella group.

The council has been deeply divided over Syria since the conflict began 2 1/2 years ago. Russia and China, who support the Syrian government, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad to end the violence which has killed over 93,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Lyall Grant said the meeting will provide a forum for council members to have “a frank and informal exchange” with the National Coalition on a number of issues involved in ending the violence in Syria.

Near the top of the list are preparations for an international conference in Geneva, backed by the United States and Russia, to try to agree on a transitional government based on a plan adopted in that city a year ago. The National Coalition said recently it will not attend the Geneva talks unless they are about Assad handing over power and until the military balance in Syria is restored.

Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council on Tuesday that the U.N. is working to ensure that the Geneva conference takes place as soon as possible.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, has held two rounds of talks with U.S. and Russian officials to prepare for the conference but while progress has been made, a number of issues are still under discussion, he said.

Al-Jarba’s election earlier this month suggested the opposition is trying to unite despite its differences after Assad’s forces started gaining ground last month. The opposition bloc is primarily composed of exiled politicians with little support among Syrians back home.

The National Coalition delegation is visiting Paris Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to New York.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig is hosting a meeting Thursday for the delegation to meet diplomats from a number of countries that are not on the Security Council, Germany’s U.N. Mission said.

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