EU: Geneva II must include 'genuine' Syria transition

The EU said Monday it fully supported the Geneva II Syria peace conference to begin this week as "a first step" towards a solution which must include a genuine political transition.

Geneva "should be the first step in a process that will lead to a political solution" to the bloody conflict, EU foreign ministers said in a statement.

"The EU reiterates that the only solution to the conflict is a genuine political transition," they said, recalling that Geneva I in 2012 called for the formation of a new government but did not mention President Bashar al-Assad by name.

Assad's future is a key issue in the conflict and the president has told AFP in an exclusive interview he would likely seek a new term and that he would not share power with the opposition.

"I see no reason why I shouldn't stand," Assad said of presidential elections in June. "In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant."

Assad also insisted the peace talks beginning in Switzerland from Wednesday should focus on "the war against terrorism," dismissing the rebels as groups backed by outside powers.

EU foreign ministers noted "that the objective of the conference is the formation by mutual consent of a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) with full executive powers, including over security, military and intelligence."

"Any elections in Syria should only take place within the framework" of the Geneva Communique, it said.

"The regime, as well as the opposition, must commit themselves to the full implementation of the Communique as a matter of urgency, and demonstrate that commitment through their actions."

The foreign ministers, holding a regular monthly meeting, also stressed the importance of getting humanitarian aid through to the many refugees and internally displaced as the nearly three-year-old conflict drags on.

The involvement of extremist groups meanwhile poses "a threat to the peace process, the territorial integrity of Syria and to regional and international security," they said.

The upcoming Geneva II talks hit a major hurdle on Monday after UN chief Ban Ki-moon invited Iran, a key Syria ally, to take up a seat.

The EU ministers made no direct mention of Iran but did call on Hezbollah -- backed by Tehran and whose forces have helped Damascus at key points in the conflict -- to "withdraw immediately."

The Syrian National Coalition umbrella opposition group meanwhile warned that it would boycott the conference unless Ban withdrew his invitation to Iran.

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