Russia, U.S. deny date set for Syria peace conference

Reuters

* Syrian deputy PM says 'Geneva 2' meeting scheduled

* Russia, U.S. and U.N. envoy say dates not set

* Russia, U.S. announced plan to convene conference in May

By Alexei Anishchuk

MOSCOW, Oct 17 (Reuters) - A senior Syrian official said onThursday that a long-delayed international conference aimed atending his country's civil war was scheduled for Nov. 23-24, butco-organisers Russia and the United States said no date had beenset.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimialso cast doubt on the statement, saying the timing of theconference intended to bring Syria's government and oppositiontogether had not yet been agreed.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil gave what he saidwere the dates for the meeting during a news conference inMoscow. He later told Reuters: "This is what (U.N.Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon is saying, not me."

Hours later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman AlexanderLukashevich said: "We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves."

"It is not a matter for Syrian officials but theresponsibility of U.N. Secretary General to announce and setdates agreed with all sides," he said.

The United States seconded that.

"We have discussed potential dates but nothing has been finalized," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a dailybriefing. "No date is final until it is set and announced by theU.N."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has suggested theconference be held sometime in mid-November, will attend ameeting of the "Friends of Syria," including Western and GulfArab countries, in London on Oct. 22 where the peace talks willbe discussed, Psaki added.

Brahimi spokeswoman Khawla Mattar said she did not expect adate to be announced before early November.

"We are still not announcing a date because we don't thinkthey are finalised or agreed by all parties," Mattar said.

But she said a deputy to Brahimi, Nasser al-Kidwa, wouldmeet with Syrian opposition representatives in Istanbul andother capitals to "discuss with them their readiness forspecific dates in November."

'DEAD END'

The deal reached last month for Syria to scrap its chemicalweapons rekindled efforts to convene the conference, dubbed"Geneva 2," which Russia and the United States have been tryingto organise since May.

Jamil has made several visits to Russia during the conflict,which has killed more than 115,000 people since it began inMarch 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rightsmonitoring group.

He said the conference was needed because "everyone is at adead end - a military and political dead end.

"Geneva is a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia,the Syrian regime and the opposition. Whoever realises thisfirst will benefit. Whoever does not realise it will findhimself overboard, outside the political process."

The prospect of a peace conference raises questions overwhether Iran will be invited to the Syria peace talks, somethingWashington has pushed back at unless Tehran states publicly thatit would support a transition government in Syria. That wouldmean Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should step down.

Psaki said Brahimi and Kerry discussed Iran's participationin a Syria peace conference at their meeting in London onMonday.

"We continue to discuss with our allies and stakeholderswhether Iran should participate," Psaki said, adding: "Ourposition remains the same, which is that any party (which) wouldbe included in Geneva 2 must accept and publicly support theGeneva communique," which calls for a transitional government inSyria.

"That is not what Iran has done, and if they were to do thatwe would be more open to their participation," Psaki added.

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