U.N. envoy hopes for Syria peace conference within weeks

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The United Nations envoy to Syria said on Friday he hoped a long-delayed peace conference could still be held in the next few weeks despite obstacles that have held it up for months.

The so-called Geneva 2 conference, intended to bring Syria's warring sides to the negotiating table, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between world powers, divisions among the opposition and the inflexible positions of both sides.

Arab and Western officials said this week that international powers were unlikely to meet their goal of holding the conference in November.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, speaking at a news conference in Damascus after a trip to shore up support for the talks, said he would go to Geneva to meet U.S. and Russian representatives.

They would later be joined by representatives from the other three permanent U.N. Security Council members - Britain, China and France - to prepare for the conference and agree on a date.

Asked when the conference might be held, he said: "We hope it will be in the coming weeks, not next year or after that."

Syrian state media quoted President Bashar al-Assad as telling Brahimi in a meeting on Wednesday that talks would only succeed if foreign powers stopped supporting the rebels.

Some disagreements about the conference have centred on who should attend - in particular Assad's main ally Iran, which has said it is ready to take part.

Brahimi said the United Nations preferred that Iran attend, but there had been no agreement on this yet. He also said he hoped just one delegation would represent the opposition.

The rebels fighting to overthrow Assad in the 2-1/2-year-old conflict have been hindered by severe divisions.

Some of the main rebel groups reject the authority of the Syrian National Coalition, an Istanbul-based opposition group which Western powers are trying to convince to join the talks.

Brahimi declined to specify any date for the conference.

"There are some very, very serious efforts being developed everywhere to try and make this conference possible, but we will say it happens only when it happens," he said.

(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alistair Lyon)


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