Syria's government tells a U.N. envoy it is ready to take part in talks aimed at ending the five-year-old conflict that has killed an estimated 250,000. Diane Hodges reports.
Syria's government has told a U.N. envoy that it's ready to begin talks to end the country's civil war. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus on Saturday, to discuss the conference which will bring together government negotiators with representatives of opposition groups trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The talks are scheduled to begin January 25th in Geneva. De Mistura has been talking with the various parties scheduled to attend. SOUNDBITE) (English) STAFFAN DE MISTURA, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO SYRIA, SAYING: "After this I will continue my trip also to Tehran, so it is premature to make any comment. My job is to be always optimist as you know very well." But others are finding that optimism difficult to share. Syria wants first to know which of the groups fighting the government will be allowed to attend. Rebels are demanding the Syrian government stop bombing civilian areas, release detainees and lift blockades imposed on opposition-held areas. The outlook has been further clouded by increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflict. But Western countries are pushing hard to end the fighting which has inundated Europe with a wave of refugees. U.N. officials say one million more Syrians will be displaced by the end of the year unless the fighting comes to an end.