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Syria conference doubtful for July: UN envoy

UN peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi speaks during a press conference upon his arrival on June 25, 2013 at the United Nations (UN) office in Geneva. A widely anticipated peace conference for Syria will probably not take place next month as hoped, Brahimi said Tuesday.AFP

A widely anticipated peace conference for Syria will probably not take place next month as hoped, UN peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Tuesday.

"Frankly, I doubt that the conference will take place in July," he told reporters in Geneva ahead of a second meeting with US and Russian diplomats aimed at paving the way for the conference.

Brahimi was reluctant to discuss the expected outcome of Tuesday's meeting, saying only: "I am confident that our discussions will be constructive and I am also confident that we will make progress."

The Algerian career diplomat began his meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman at 11:30 GMT.

The meeting marked the second time this month the high-level diplomats gather in the Swiss city to try to organise the conference, which had originally been proposed for June, then July.

Brahimi stressed the urgency of holding the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, which is to be hosted by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and is meant to follow up on an initial meeting in the Swiss city last year that produced a never-implemented transition plan for Syria.

"I think that what is happening in the region is extremely, extremely serious," he said, calling on the parties to bring an end to "this situation that is getting out of hand, not only in Syria but also in the region".

But while all sides have repeatedly said Geneva 2 should take place as quickly as possible, it is looking ever more unlikely that the conference will get off the ground.

The 27-month conflict in Syria, which according to the UN has already killed more than 93,000 people, is spinning ever more out of control.

The United States has accused Damascus of using chemical weapons against the rebels, something it has warned could undermine the chances for a political settlement.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday a renewed government offensive against the opposition was harming any chance of holding the conference.

Damascus meanwhile stressed Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had no intention of stepping down at the proposed conference, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem saying that "if your condition (for talks at Geneva) is President Assad's resignation, don't bother coming".

The fragmented opposition meanwhile has not agreed on who to send to Geneva 2 and continues to insist that any solution to the increasingly sectarian conflict must involve Assad's departure.

The opposition has also set other conditions for its attendance, including the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters from neighbouring Lebanon who have intervened in support of the Assad regime.

Russia, the United Nations and the United States are also disagreeing on the participation of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Brahimi nonetheless remained positive, saying that Assad's regime had signalled it would attend the conference, while the opposition groups were planning to meet on July 4 and 5 to discuss how to organise themselves to attend.

"I think that they will confirm that they will come," he said.

"No one expects that the meetings will be easy between the two parties, but I think that it would be a step forward if they meet, if they agree to talk," he added.