TODAY’S MESOP SYRIA INSIGHT : Diplomats meet in Geneva to discuss Syrian peace conference

U.S. and Russian officials have met in Genevawith U.N. and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for talks aimed at paving the way for the long-delayed Geneva II peace conference on Syria. They will be joined by the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, France, and China — as well as Syria’s neighboring countries — Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.

Brahimi said he hopes to convene the conference “in the next few weeks, not next year.” However, the meetings have come just after Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi reasserted President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to remain in office, saying “we will not go to Geneva to hand over power.” Syria’s main opposition coalition maintains it would only participate in the conference if the aim is a political transition away from Assad. Additionally the parties are divided over Iran’s involvement in the proposed talks. Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council Monday that about 40 percent of the Syrian population, 9.3 million people, need humanitarian assistance due to the two and half year civil war. The Syrian government committed Monday to deliver humanitarian aid and vaccinations across the country, as concerns increase over a polio outbreak in the northeast. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, tasked with overseeing the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, has reported it only has sufficient funding to maintain operations through November. The organization will need to raise tens to hundreds of millions of dollars for the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpile slated for 2014.