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Published: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 6:35:02 AM
Updated: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 6:35:02 AM

France says "pessimistic" on Syria, has doubts about peace talks

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius attends a news conference in Paris after a meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers of African nations as part of the Elysee Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius attends a news conference in Paris after a meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers of African nations as part of the Elysee Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

MONACO (Reuters) - France's foreign minister said on Saturday he was "pessimistic" about the situation in Syria and had great doubts about the success of a proposed peace conference to be held in Switzerland next month.

"In Syria, I am sadly quite pessimistic," Laurent Fabius told delegates at the World Policy Conference in Monaco.

France, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's fiercest critics, was the first Western power to provided non-lethal military aid to the Free Syrian Army, while it was also the first Western state to recognise the Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

"We are working on the success of (the Geneva talks), but we can have a great deal of doubt on that. If sadly it isn't successful, that would mean this martyred country will continue to suffer as will its neighbours," Fabius said.

About 30 ministers from big powers, regional countries and others are due to gather in the Swiss resort of Montreux on January 22 to give their blessing to the negotiations between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels fighting to oust him.

The stated goal is to agree on a transitional government with full powers to end a 1,000-day-old conflict that has killed well over 100,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

Fabius dampened expectations on the Swiss talks and acknowledged for the first time that Syria's moderate opposition was in trouble.

"Bashar al-Assad says he will send representatives to Geneva. While Mr Assad has a lot of faults, he is not an idiot ... we can't see why he would hand over all his powers. As for the opposition that we support, it is in great difficulty," Fabius said.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Cooney)

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