PARIS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has put forward names of five officials from his administration for internationally-sponsored peace talks with the Syrian opposition, European Union diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.
The list includes Prime Minister Wael al-Halki and more junior officials. According to a second EU diplomat, Syria's opposition has already rejected some of the officials on the list because of their lack of influence.
The EU sources said Assad in early March circulated a list of names for possible talks, including al Halki, Vice Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, Information Minister Omran Zoabi, National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar and Joseph Sweid, the minister charged with overseeing Red Crescent Affairs.
The source said Assad had since confirmed to Russia that these were the officials he wanted to send to negotiations which Moscow and Washington are trying to organise to end a conflict that has killed at least 80,000 people.
“The list is likely to change," the first diplomat said, adding that any official sent to the meeting had to have sufficient weight to properly negotiate.
The second diplomat said Syria's National Coalition had already deemed some of the names unacceptable, without saying which. Both diplomats are closely involved in the planning and consultations for the peace talks.
Assad last week poured scorn on plans for talks announced unexpectedly by the United States and Russia two weeks ago and which are scheduled for the Swiss city of Geneva in June.
His remarks were the latest indication that the warring parties are cold to the superpowers' invitation. But opposition figures say they are likely to agree to attend the talks anyway in a bid to isolate Assad.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to discuss current planning for the talks at a meeting in Jordan on Wednesday of the “Friends of Syria" club of countries seeking Assad's downfall, many of which are sceptical of the peace initiative.
Syria's opposition will then meet on Thursday in Istanbul to announce its stance. The Arab League's Syria committee will also meet on Thursday in Cairo at the request of leading Assad foe Qatar, possibly to endorse the opposition's decision.
The first EU diplomat said peace talks were difficult to arrange and it was too early to say when they could take place.
“There is absolutely no date. The biggest difficulty is getting them to the table and for that each side (Russia and the West) must deliver the other party to the table."