Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed Thursday to press ahead with plans to receive long-range air defense missiles from Russia, while the main Syrian opposition group said it would not participate in peace talks in Geneva, further dampening prospects for a U.S.-backed effort to end the two-year-old conflict.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition, meeting in Istanbul, said it would not attend the proposed talks while militants from Iran and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah continue to back Assad’s forces. The announcement is a setback for the United States, which has been leading efforts to get the fractured Syrian opposition to the negotiating table. However, the coalition bowed to Western pressure to broaden its ranks, expanding the 71-seat assembly by adding 43 new members, including 15 representatives of the Free Syrian Army.
Russian, U.S. and U.N. officials are scheduled to meet Wednesday for a last-ditch effort to bring the warring sides in Syria together for talks. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that the United States would continue to work “aggressively” to organize the Geneva talks.