France FM says Syria breakthrough in Sochi unlikely
TOKYO - France's foreign minister said Monday he was sceptical of any breakthrough at upcoming talks hosted by Russia and aimed at ending Syria's bitter civil war.
Moscow, which has helped turn the war in favour of its ally Bashar al-Assad, has invited 1,600 people to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to begin hammering out a new constitution for post-war Syria, with talks set to start Tuesday.
The gathering comes after another round of UN-backed talks in Vienna ended in failure, with regime negotiators refusing to sit down with the rebel side unless they drop their demand for Assad to go.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Vienna's failure meant there was little hope for success in Russia, which the main Syrian opposition group has boycotted.
"I don't think there will be progress in Sochi primarily because an essential component (the opposition) will not be there, precisely because of the regime's refusal to negotiate in Vienna," he told reporters in Tokyo during a visit.
"If there was a failure in Vienna it was because the regime was not in the negotiations," he added.
The Sochi meeting is backed by Iran and Turkey, two key players in the complex and devastating near seven-year-old conflict.
But it is viewed with unease by the opposition and Western countries, who fear it will sideline the UN track and carve out a settlement in favour of Assad.
In a statement on Monday France's foreign ministry confirmed it would not take part in the Sochi talks while Le Drian said alternatives to the UN-backed talks were "not good".
Even the Kremlin has played down expectations for the event, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Monday that "breakthroughs in the task of political regulation in Syria are hardly possible".
Only a fraction of the 1,600 invitees are set to participate in the event, according to a list of participants which has about 350 people on it.
Syria's civil war has killed some 340,000 and sent millions more fleeing overseas or to neighbouring countries.