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Oct 21, 2013 3:55 PM by AP

Syrian president casts doubt on peace conference

BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's president said Monday that the factors needed for a proposed peace conference to end the country's conflict to succeed do not yet exist, raising doubts about renewed international efforts to bring the opposing sides in the civil war to the negotiating table.

The United States and Russia have been trying for months to convene an international conference in Geneva to negotiate a political solution to Syria's intractable civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and forced 2 million more to flee the country. The U.N. chief has set mid-November as a target for the proposed gathering, although no final date has been announced.

But Bashar Assad brushed aside the renewed efforts to coax the government and the opposition into taking part in a peace conference, telling Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen TV in an interview that "the factors that would help in holding it are not in place if we want it to succeed."

He said it's not clear who would represent the opposition, or what credibility they would have inside Syria.

"Who are the groups that will participate? What is their relation with the Syrian people? Do they represent the Syrian people or they represent the country that made them?" Assad asked. "There are many questions about the conference."

For its part, Syria's fractured opposition has yet to decide whether to attend the proposed Geneva conference.

The main Western-backed opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, is scheduled to meet Nov. 1-2 in Istanbul to decide whether to take part in the talks. One of the most prominent factions within the Coalition, the Syrian National Council, has said it has no faith in negotiations with Assad's regime and won't be part of Geneva.

But the Coalition's ability to speak for the broader rebellion has long been in dispute, and fighters inside Syria - many of whom reject negotiations with the regime - have accused the opposition leaders in exile of being out of touch with reality on the ground. The Coalition's credibility, already strained, took a major hit last month when nearly a dozen prominent rebel groups publicly broke with the opposition umbrella group. More rebel brigades have since followed suit.

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