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Top diplomats in last-ditch meet with Syria opposition

May 29, 2013 7:53 P.M. (Updated: May 30, 2013 12:25 P.M.)
ISTANBUL (AFP) -- A string of top diplomats arrived on Wednesday at a stalled Istanbul meeting of Syria's divided opposition, in what looked like a last-ditch effort to break a deadlock in the National Coalition.

Dissidents say the chaotic meeting has been deadlocked by internal bickering as well as conflicting pressures from key backers of the revolt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Turkey and the United States.

These nations, which have conflicting visions for the opposition, sent in top representatives on Wednesday, as the meeting dragged into its seventh day, four days longer than was scheduled.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and a top French diplomat on Syria were at the meeting along with a Saudi intelligence official and top Qatari diplomat.

Despite a week of marathon meetings and heavy criticism from rebels and activists inside Syria, the Coalition has failed to find common ground on key issues, including whether to take part in in a peace conference proposed by the United States and Russia.

Veteran secular Syrian dissident Michel Kilo, a Christian writer and rights activist who was voted into the Coalition and has been at the heart of debate this past week, also arrived at the talks.

Saudi Arabia, which backed Kilo's bid to join the Coalition, wants the group to expand in order to water down the influence of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.

Opponents supported by regional rival Qatar, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have resisted the Saudis' move.

A week into the chaotic meeting, dissidents have failed to agree on any key issues, chief among them the proposed peace conference that Washington and Moscow are trying to organize in Geneva next month.

"Things are not moving. The opposition has hit its worst crisis yet," said a Coalition member on condition of anonymity, minutes before the international delegation arrived.

The Istanbul meeting was also supposed to choose a new Coalition president, agree on an interim government and vote in new members to join the group.

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