Syrian opposition agrees to attend international peace talks

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FILE - Syrian National Coalition Chief Ahmad al-Jarba, left, listens to US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, during the start of their meeting at the US Ambassador residence in Paris, France, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.
Syria\’s main opposition group has agreed to attend internationally sponsored peace talks due to begin in Switzerland next week. 
The Syrian National Coalition\’s media office says 58 of 73 coalition voters have supported attending the so-called Geneva II talks with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad\’s government.
Another 44 who had initially attended the session had withdrawn and did not vote.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed Saturday\’s vote as "a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians."
The opposition groups meeting in Istanbul were under heavy U.S. pressure to attend the conference, which is aimed at forming a transitional government.
Many opposition leaders have refused to attend talks without a prior commitment that President Bashar al-Assad would step down. 
The Syrian government considers all rebel forces to be terrorists, and has tried to shift the focus of the peace talks from forming a new government to fighting extremism.
Kerry warned the Syrian president Friday the United States is not out of options to pressure his government to comply with the goals set in the first Geneva conference.
Meanwhile, the government in Damascus says it has given Russia a plan for a cease-fire in Syria\’s largest city of Aleppo and an exchange of prisoners with Syrian rebels. 
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said during a visit to Moscow Friday he had turned over the proposals in preparation for peace talks with the rebels.
Source: VOA and agencies

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