Syria's centrist internal opposition group, which rejects the armed fighting, said today that it will not attend peace talks in Switzerland next week, in a setback for the negotiations.
Khaled Dahowd, an executive member of the National Coordination Body (NCB), accused Russia and the United States of rushing the conference to promote their own interests in the region, rather than those of the Syrian people.
"There will be four days between the Coalition's decision to attend Geneva and the start of the conference. How can we create a unified delegation with a unified democratic platform four days before an international conference?" Dahowd asked , stressing "under these conditions we will not attend ... The Geneva conference as planned now will fail".
The NCB has tense relations with the opposition coalition, which is rife with internal divisions and will only decide whether it will send representatives at a meeting on Jan. 17.
The peace talks "Geneva-2" are set to start in Montreux on Jan. 22.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, said in a statement he deeply regretted but respected the NCB's decision.
It is hard to gauge the extent of popular support for any of Syria's political groups amid the chaos of the country's nearly 3-year crisis.
Dahowd argued the two world powers were forcing the conference now to increase their own regional influence, not to help Syrians reach a final political settlement.
Dahowd said "U.S. ambassador Robert Ford knows this conference is going to fail but that is what he wants because it will probably degrade Syria further and will allow Washington to get more power over the outcome when the real deal comes", adding " Russia is also happy with this set up . They are both delaying a real solution".
Dahowd, who is based in London, said that the opposition should have had a month to prepare after attendance was agreed.
The NCB said it was reaching out to other Syrian opposition groups, including some armed forces, to launch its own talks.