Salisbury JournalCall for unity over Syria talks (From Salisbury Journal)

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Call for unity over Syria talks

Salisbury Journal: William Hague welcomed a decision by the main, western-backed Syrian opposition group to attend peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war William Hague welcomed a decision by the main, western-backed Syrian opposition group to attend peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war

Representatives of president Bashar Assad and Iran should have a seat around the table at talks aimed at halting the bloodshed in Syria, Labour's shadow foreign secretary said today.

Douglas Alexander said it was better for all sides, including the Assad regime, to take part in the new round of talks in Geneva even if the different parties had disagreements over what should be discussed - or even what the goal is.

Speaking on the Sky News Murnaghan programme, Mr Alexander said the talks in Geneva were vital to begin building the basis of a settlement and a "long term solution" to the three year civil war.

He said: "My hopes are limited but given the scale of the slaughter we are still witnessing in Syria it is vital these talks take place.

"I welcome the fact the Syrian national council agreed yesterday in Turkey to come to the talks on Wednesday in Switzerland, but if you talk about what can actually be achieved given we are dealing both with a regime and with rebel forces still engaged in heavy combat in Syria, I think we have to be realistic as to what we can aim for.

"I would hope a process would be out in place this week that could be carried forward, there are individual confidence building measures I think could be worked towards, whether that is corridors of humanitarian access so people can reach the many million of people suffering within Syria in addition to that, localised ceasefires... prisoner exchanges, which is one of the other measures which has been talked about.

"I've argued for Iran to be part of a contact group, bringing together the principle sponsors to the conflict given how difficult it is to find a way forward... I think it will be a matter of regret if Iran is not at these talks because on any reckoning given its heavy responsibility supporting Assad, providing troops, providing weapons, it is a key actor on the Syrian stage."

President Assad has reportedly insisted again today he is not prepared to countenance stepping down - despite rebel forces seeking a transitional government agreed by all sides.

Mr Alexander added: "Is it better for there to be talks, albeit with genuine and continuing disagreements between the parties, even about what the talks are aiming for, or to have no talks at all?

"Given the fact we are now looking at more than two million people displaced across the region, six million displaced within the country, more than 125,000 people having died in the last two or three years, I think it is better to have representatives of Assad in the room talking than not to be present, albeit that the opposition have only turned up on the basis there would be a transitional government formed by consent.

"The opposition parties will make clear that for them to consent to a transitional government will require the absence not the presence of Assad.

"The only long term solution is an inclusive political settlement.

"The only basis to get that inclusive political settlement is to have talks, often with parties who disagree profoundly, indeed who are trying to kill each other within Syria, which is why what happens on Wednesday is I hope the start of another chapter in the Syrian story."

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