Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to head to Paris to meet on Sunday with ministers from the ‘Friends of Syria’ group hoping to finalize the last details of the key conference, diplomats said on Friday.

The head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition Ahmad Jarba will also be at the talks in the French capital, and is likely to come under intense pressure to join the Geneva 2 talks set to open on January 22.

The aim of UN-led talks is to bring together the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition for the first time since the war erupted in March 2011.
Negotiations will focus on establishing a transitional government, as set out in a June 2012 accord, paving the way towards a new leadership and an end to the bloodshed that has already claimed some 1,30,000 lives.

They will first open in the Swiss city of Montreux, before moving to Geneva for further discussions at a lower level but the exiled Syria opposition has postponed a decision on whether to attend until January 17.

"Personally, I'm reasonably confident that we'll be successful because this is their first opportunity to face the Syrian administration face to face," a top State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

The meeting will gather foreign ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and United States.
The Syrian National Council, the main component of the coalition, had said it would boycott the conference, refusing to negotiate until Assad's regime is toppled. But the Syrian government insists that Assad's departure from power is not up for discussion.
The talks in Paris will also discuss whether Iran, which has been funneling arms and cash to Assad, should be allowed to participate in Geneva talks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to chair the Geneva conference and he has already invited about 20 countries to attend but not Iran.
Russia, the chief ally of Assad's regime, is keen to see Iran at the table, but the United States has insisted Tehran should first back the 2012 accord setting out a path to a transitional government.


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