Damascus confirms it will attend next round of peace talks

DAMASCUS - Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, said on Friday that Damascus will take part in a second round of peace talks in Geneva due to start on February 10.

"It has been decided that the delegation of the Syrian republic will take part in the second round of negotiations in Geneva," state news agency SANA quoted Muqdad as saying.

"The Syrian delegation wishes to pursue the efforts it deployed during the first round in Geneva, and insists that the discussions focus on all clauses in the Geneva I communique, beginning with the first clause," he said.

Ten days of talks in Switzerland last month between government and opposition delegations yielded no tangible results, and Damascus had said it was unsure whether it would return to the negotiating table.

Despite persistent pressure from UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and cosponsors Russia and the United States, the two sides failed to agree on a single point.

On Tuesday, Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmad Jarba met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, a key Damascus ally, in Moscow. As they met, Russia's deputy foreign minister indicated that Moscow expected President Bashar al-Assad to state firmly his delegation's intention to resume the peace talks.

Damascus calls rebels "terrorists", and insists that the priority in the Geneva talks must be to focus on "terrorism". For the opposition, the central point of the negotiations is the transition foreseen in the Geneva I communique.

It was adopted by world powers in 2012 but is ambiguous, in that it calls for an interim government but is unclear on Assad's future. "A return to security and stability in Syria means that halting terrorism and violence must be discussed, as envisioned in the Geneva I communique," Muqdad said.