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February 26, 2013

At Kerry's request, skeptical Syrian opposition will attend Rome talks

BERLIN (AP) — Skeptical Syrian opposition leaders agreed Monday to attend an international conference in Rome after first threatening to boycott the session that was to be the centerpiece of Secretary of State John Kerry’s first overseas mission in his new job.

Opposition leaders had protested what they see as inaction by other nations in the face of violence from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Kerry not only made a public plea at a joint news conference Monday with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, he also called Moaz Khatib, leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, “to encourage him to come to Rome,” a senior U.S. official said.

Spokesman Walid al-Bunni said the council had decided to send a delegation to Rome after all.

Al-Bunni told Al-Arabiya TV the decision was made based on guarantees al-Khatib heard from western diplomats that the conference would be different and that the opposition would receive real commitments. “We will go and we will see if the promises are different this time,” he said.

After speaking with Khatib, Kerry flew to Berlin from London, the first stop of his first trip as secretary of state — a hectic nine-country dash through Europe and the Middle East.

Kerry had also dispatched his top Syrian envoy to Cairo in hopes of convincing opposition leaders that their participation is critical to addressing questions from potential donors and securing additional aid from the United States and Europe.

“We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming,” Kerry told reporters in London after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hague. “We are not going to let the Syrian opposition not have its ability to have its voice properly heard in this process.”

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