Kerry urges all sides to ‘seize the moment’ in Syria peace talks

Published January 31st, 2016 - 05:41 GMT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Syria's mixed opposition and regime to fully engage in peace negotiations on Sunday, while condemning Assad's forces for starving civilians.

"This morning, in light of what is at stake in these talks, I appeal to both sides to make the most of this moment," Kerry declared in an online statement broadcast from Washington.

Although the Secretary of State addressed both sides, his words were aimed at the opposition, which has threatened to leave Geneva before the negotiations even start.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee has demanded that humanitarian aid be given access to besieged towns before engaging in discussions with Assad's envoys.

Kerry requested they drop their preconditions, but also voiced strong criticism of the regime, condemning Assad's forces of deliberately starving the beleaguered cities.

"The town of Madaya is just an hour's drive from Damascus and yet its people have been reduced to eating grass and leaves," Kerry said.

"How have the regime and the militias that support it responded? By planting landmines and erecting barbed wire to keep relief workers out," he said.

Kerry added that Washington had received credible reports that an additional 16 people had died of starvation in the rebel-held, regime-besieged town over the weekend.

Kerry described the opening of talks in Geneva under U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura as a "pivotal phase" and described the HNC as representing an "inclusive opposition."

And he urged both sides to negotiate "in good faith with the goal of making concrete measurable progress in the days immediately ahead.

"The world is hoping both sides will move quickly to meet the needs of millions of desperate Syrians," he added.

The diplomat warned that should ceasefire talks fail the war would destroy what remains of Syria and enable recruiters from the Daesh extremist group.

"Now, while battlefield dynamics can effect negotiating leverage, in the end there is no military solution to the conflict," he said.

"Without negotiations the bloodshed will drag on until the last city is reduced to rubble ... and that will ensure an increased number of [extremists], created by and attracted to this fight."

Kerry was one of the main organizers of the Geneva talks, working alongside Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the 17-nation International Syrian Support Group.

He however has no plans to join the negotiating parties there, opting to leave the "proximity talks" under the auspices De Mistura and the United Nations.

Instead, Kerry is due to travel to Rome on Sunday to attend a meeting with the members of the U.S.-led military coalition fighting the Daesh group.

Later in the week he is expected in London to attend a conference for donors to the humanitarian response in Syria.

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