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UN Talks on Syria May Be Delayed, Diplomats Say

FILE - Syria's President Bashar al-Assad
FILE - Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

Diplomats at the United Nations say next week's scheduled peace talks on Syria may be delayed because major powers are squabbling over which Syrian opposition members should be invited.

The talks are set to open January 25 in Geneva, but invitations have yet to go out.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday that the 25th remains the target date for the meeting.

"The U.N. will proceed with issuing invitations when the countries spearheading the international Syria support group process come to an understanding on who among the opposition should be invited," Haq told reporters. "The Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] urges those countries to redouble efforts to reach that agreement."

Seventeen world powers plan to be at the Geneva talks, including the United States and Russia — who back different sides in the Syrian civil war — and Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional powers and arch-rivals.

The talks are aimed at setting up a transitional government for Syria in the hopes of turning it into a democracy.

While all the delegations agree that the fighting must stop, there is severe disagreement over who should be part of the new Syria.

The United States has said President Bashar al-Assad, someone who has committed atrocities against his own people, cannot be a part of Syria's future. Russia — Assad's most powerful ally — says it is up to the Syrian people themselves to decide that.

Some opposition groups in Syria are more moderate than others, while the Syrian government regards all opposition members as "terrorists."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN television Monday that he cannot make any promises about Syria, but that the Geneva conference is the only way to get a political settlement.