Updates to say the conference began.
MOSCOW, January 22 (RIA Novosti) – The long-awaited Geneva-2 peace conference bringing together warring parties in Syria and top global diplomats started Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, his US counterpart John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a meeting behind closed doors ahead of the conference on late Tuesday.
Organizers of the conference hope it could lead to the formation of a transitional government for Syria, where at least 100,000 have been killed in civil strife since 2011, although President Bashar Assad has shown no sign of intending to step aside.
Talks between Syrian government representatives and the opposition are to begin Friday and are expected to last between seven and 10 days.
The UN-backed conference, a follow-up on similar talks in Geneva in 2012, was months in the making and repeatedly on the brink of cancelation.
The Syrian opposition remained split on the issue. Radical Islamists have denounced the conference, while the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition only agreed to participate on Tuesday, a decision that has created some dissent within its ranks.
Iran, a major backer of the Assad regime, is also not participating after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon withdrew his invitation to Tehran earlier this week.
The decision, heavily lobbied by Washington, was due to Iran refusing to support existing agreements on Syria, Ban’s office said.
Plans to hold the conference in Geneva were cancelled after it turned out that most hotels in the city were booked up to cater for an international watches fair taking place there at the same time.
The story was updated to indicate the conference began.