The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

February 25, 2013

Kerry urges Syrian opposition to attend Rome talks

BERLIN —  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried Monday to patch back together a conference with Syrian opposition leaders that was to be the centerpiece of his maiden overseas trip, urging Syrian rebel leaders not to boycott the meeting and insisting that more help is on the way in their fight against President Bashar Assad.

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. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, described the conversation as "good" but declined to offer more detail.

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. The trip includes the Syria conference Thursday in Rome, which some members of the sharply divided Syrian opposition council say they will boycott to protest what they see as inaction by other nations in the face of brutal violence from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

In a bid to salvage the conference, Kerry 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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