Kerry: U.S.-Russia-led Syrian peace conference likely in June

Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by Russian Foreign Ministry officials after his arrival at Moscow Vnukovo Airport, May 7, 2013. Getty

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that a peace conference aimed at bringing both sides of the Syrian civil war to the negotiating table would likely take place in June. It was the first detail to be offered on the new peace initiative announced last week by Russia and the U.S.

Kerry's remarks on the conference were made during a visit to Sweden, where Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later Tuesday. The remarks also came hours after Syria's information minister said Damascus needed more details about the proposed U.S.-Russian initiative before it decides whether to attend. The main opposition group has taken a similar stand.

Kerry dismissed suggestions that the President Bashar Assad's embattled government had already ruled out taking part in the conference.

"If he (Assad) decides not to come to the table, it would be another one of President (Bashar) Assad's gross miscalculations," Kerry said according to the Reuters news agency. "I don't believe that that is the case at this moment."

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi says in remarks carried by state news agency SANA Tuesday that Syria will not take part in any political dialogue that infringes on the country's sovereignty.

The U.S. and Russia called last week for an international conference to start talks accompanied by a cease-fire. The two nations are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict. This marks their first serious joint attempt at Syria diplomacy in a year, but neither side has provided any detail as to when or where the conference might take place -- or, crucially, who exactly will be invited.

Syria's Foreign Ministry welcomed the U.S.-Russian initiative without saying whether it would attend. The main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, said Monday it wants to consult its allies before deciding.

Both sides reacted with initial, guarded optimism to the fresh peace effort last week, but the National Coalition, based in Turkey, issued a statement Wednesday stressing that any reconciliation dialogue must begin "with the departure of Bashar Assad and his regime."

Assad's government, on the other hand, has been careful to state that it was open to a new dialogue, provided that it did not involve "foreign interference" in Syrian matters.

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