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Kerry seeking cease-fire, aid for Syria

January 8, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading abroad to rally international support for ending the three-year civil war in Syria and help its victims. But the main opposition group that is seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad still has not decided whether to attend a high-level meeting later this month to potentially start negotiating a cease-fire.

The State Department said Wednesday that Kerry leaves on Saturday for Paris, where he will join foreign ministers from 11 nations working on a Syria proposal.

While there, Kerry also will update Arab League officials on his attempts to strike a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinian authorities.

The Syrian National Coalition, which is the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, said this week it has postponed a vote on whether or not to attend a peace conference in Switzerland set for Jan 22. The vote is not expected until next week at the earliest.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the coalition’s indecision would not hinder the discussions in Paris. She also said it was not clear whether coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba would attend the meetings.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that there are disagreements within the opposition, that there are challenges within the opposition,” Psaki told reporters. “Obviously, they’re working through a difficult time given what’s happening on the ground.”

She added: “Obviously, they’re a pivotal part of having a successful conference, given the negotiations. And the significance of it is having the representative body from the opposition and from the regime at the table together.”

While in Paris, Kerry also will meet privately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He has been working to bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table as officials from the U.S., Europe and Sunni-dominated nations in the Mideast have dealt with the opposition coalition, which is mostly made up of Sunni Muslim groups. Assad’s Alawite religion is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the civil war has broken down along sectarian lines.

From Paris, Kerry heads to Kuwait where he will urge world officials and organizations to help raise humanitarian aid for the victims of the Syrian war.

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