Syria says it will come to Geneva talks, but "not to hand over power”

DAMASCUS, Syria - The Syrian government said Wednesday it will participate in U.N.-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war, but insisted that it is not going to the conference to hand over power.

The United Nations on Monday announced that the long-delayed peace talks will begin Jan. 22 in Geneva. The meeting, which would be the first face-to-face talks between the President Bashar Assad's government and its opponents since the Syrian war began, has raised hopes that a resolution to a conflict that activists say has killed more than 120,000 people could be within reach.

But huge hurdles remain, including a decision on the full list of participants. The main Syrian opposition group has said it is ready to attend, but wants the government to establish humanitarian corridors and release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure before it makes a final decision.

In a statement Wednesday, Syria's Foreign Ministry confirmed the government will attend, saying Assad will send an official delegation to the Geneva conference. The ministry stressed that the representatives "will be going to Geneva not to hand over power to anyone" but to meet with those "who support a political solution for Syria's future."

The Syrian opposition and its Western supporters insist that Assad cannot be part of a transitional government.

While both sides in Syria’s war have been accused of atrocities, opposition groups, human rights organizations and foreign governments -- including the Obama administration -- have accused Assad of ordering chemical weapons attacks against civilian areas. He has been accused of deliberately using indiscriminate weapons including mortars and incendiary bombs in densely populated areas.

CBS News Clarrisa Ward reported this week that activists are now accusing the Syrian government of deliberately starving people -- including thousands of children -- to death in opposition areas.

In a jab at Britain and France, the Foreign Ministry said that if Paris and London "insist on holding fast to these illusions" that there is no place for Assad in a transitional period, then "there is no need for them to attend Geneva 2."

"Our people will not allow anyone to steal their right to decide their future and leadership and the main goal of the Geneva conference is to fulfill the interests of the Syrian people alone, and not those who shed their blood," the statement said.

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