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Vatican hosts top world leaders; experts to push for end to Syrian war

Vatican City, 31 December 2013: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei are among the key political experts invited by the Vatican for a one-day meeting aimed at promoting a cease-fire in Syria, the protection of Christians there and a transitional and unified government.

The Vatican meeting on January 13 will come ahead of major peace talks on January 22 in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition forces.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the daylong Vatican "workshop" will seek to propose "a cease-fire to make humanitarian aid possible" in Syria; an end to "persecutions against Christians to encourage interreligious dialogue; a transitional authority to organize elections (and) a unified national government also responsible for the military sector and security;" as well as an end to human trafficking and prostitution in the war-torn nation.

The meeting's title is "Syria: With a death toll of 126,000 and 300,000 orphans in 36 months of war, can we remain indifferent?"

The eight-page program, prepared by the sciences academy, gave a brief background of the Syrian conflict. It said U.S. calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down "put the U.S. in effective opposition to the United Nations' peace initiative" put forth in early 2012.

"Russia argued that America's insistence on Assad's immediate departure was an impediment to peace. In this, perhaps Russia was right," the booklet said. However, while Russia backed U.N. peace initiatives, it also - with Iran - "supplied more and more sophisticated weapons to the regime" as the U.S. and other countries financed the rebels, it said.

The Vatican invited eight international experts and leaders to discuss the tragedy unfolding in Syria, the political stances of the major international players involved and possible solutions.

With opening remarks by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The workshop program outlined Pope Francis' calls, prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace in the region.

With the upcoming "Geneva II" talks, the "resumption of the U.N. peace process, this time with the U.S. and Russia on the same side to prevent violence, might succeed in keeping al-Qaida at bay -- a shared interest -- and finding a pragmatic long-term solution for Syria's complex internal divisions," it said.

Meanwhile, a two-person delegation representing the Syrian government delivered a letter for Pope Francis from Assad. The letter was delivered Dec. 28 when the Syrians met at the Vatican with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican foreign minister, and gave a ‘message’ to the Pope.

The January talks in Geneva are a follow-up to a meeting in June 2012 when international parties proposed a peace plan calling for a transitional government body in an effort to end a civil war that began in March 2011.

The conflict between Assad's government and rebel forces has killed more than 100,000 people, driven 2 million refugees out of Syria and displaced more than 4 million inside the country.Source: CNS