The Syrian Information Minister, Omran Al-Zoubi, announced on Monday that President Bashar Al-Assad's regime will not go to the Geneva II Conference "to hand over power" as demanded by members of the opposition and the countries supporting them.
Al-Zoubi told the official SANA news agency that: "We will not go to Geneva to hand over power as desired by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and certain opponents abroad. If we wanted to hand over power, we would have done it in Damascus, saving efforts and the plane tickets."
The minister explained that the Geneva II conference is "part of the political process. It is not meant for handing over power or forming a transitional government. Those who believe otherwise should read the Geneva I statement. We advise them not to come and instead to save face."
The Geneva I conference statement, which was released on June 2012, states that a transitional government is to be formed without referring to the fate of President Al-Assad, whose mandate expires in 2014. Zubi insisted that "President Al-Assad will remain head of state."
The Syrian opposition is divided over participating in the conference and demands that any future agreement guarantee the departure of Al-Assad from power, which the regime refuses to discuss.
The US, Russia and the UN have all been trying to bring the Syrian regime and the opposition together to start negotiations at the proposed Geneva II conference, hoping to reach a political solution to the ongoing conflict which began in March 2011 and has claimed the lives of more than 120,000 people as well as displaced millions of Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile Qadri Jamil, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Syria whom President Al-Assad dismissed last week, said that he wants to join the opposition during the Geneva II conference.
Jamil told Le Figaro newspaper from his residence in Moscow that during his meeting in Geneva on 26 October with the US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, "he had insisted on joining the opposition during the Geneva II conference."
Jamil continued, "I told Ambassador Ford clearly that I opposed the regime before joining the government and during my service as a minister and I will continue to oppose it." However Jamil admitted that his efforts to persuade the US ambassador had failed.
A Syrian source confirmed at the time that Ford refused Jamil's request, saying "it is hard to be an official in the Syrian government and a representative of the opposition at the same time."
According to the French newspaper, Jamil, who is 61 years old, is counting on his good relations with Moscow to guarantee him a seat in the transitional government that is expected to emerge from the Geneva II conference, and which is likely to include ministers loyal to the Al-Assad regime as well as representatives of the opposition.