MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Syria's government and opposition met for the first time on Wednesday at a U.N. peace conference in Switzerland, along with delegates from international and regional powers. Here are some of the things they said:
U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of fragile but real hope. For the first time, the Syrian government and the Syria opposition, countries of the region and the wider international community, are convening to seek a political solution to the death, destruction and displacement that is the dire reality of life in Syria today.
All Syrians, and all in the region affected by this crisis, are looking to you gathered here to end the unspeakable human suffering, to save Syria's rich societal mosaic, and to embark on a meaningful political process to achieve a Syrian-led transition.
Some towns and villages have become unliveable, ruined by constant aerial bombardments. Schools, hospitals, markets, homes and places of worship have been destroyed. Car bombs, suicide and mortar attacks have terrified the population in many parts of the country. Lawlessness and chaos are attracting criminals and foreign fighters from all over the world. Radical groups are imposing their own - destructive and dangerous - vision.
The violence must be ended. Attacks against civilians must cease. All parties must work to put an end to all terrorist acts. I urgently call on the government and the opposition to allow immediate and full humanitarian access to all communities in need - particularly in besieged areas where hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from any assistance for months, with disturbing reports of malnutrition and desperate health conditions. Food and medical and surgical equipment must be allowed in; the sick and wounded people must be allowed out.
SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WALID AL-MOUALEM
Syria as an independent country will do whatever it takes to defend itself with ways it sees appropriate.
If you are really worried about the humanitarian situation in Syria then take your hands off us. Stop pouring weapons into Syria and lift the sanctions and the siege on the Syrian people.
We came here as representatives of the Syrian people and state, and everybody should know that nobody in this world has the right to withdraw the legitimacy to a president or government ... other than the Syrians themselves.
We are here to today to take a fateful decision to combat terrorism and extremism and to start a political process ... But some of you continue to support terrorism in Syria ... Terrorism in the end will spread and burn everybody.
(Some countries) have openly exported to us monsters in human form who have drunk the abhorrent Wahhabi ideology.
In Syria the wombs of pregnant women are cut open, foetuses are killed. Women are raped, dead or alive in a despicable behaviour that belongs only to those who spread this kind of thinking. In Syria men get slaughtered in front of their children in the name of the revolution ... In Syria, someone ate the heart of a Syrian to achieve the ambition, as he claims, to live a 'free, happy, prosperous life'.
NATIONAL COALITION PRESIDENT AHMED JARBA
We want to make sure we have a partner in this room that goes from being a Bashar al-Assad delegation to a free delegation so that all executive powers are transferred from Bashar al-Assad.
Time is like a sword, but for the Syrians time is now blood.
We consider Geneva as a prelude to the removal of Assad and his trial along with all those in his circle.
Any talk of Assad staying in power in any form is a deviation from the Geneva agreement.
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY
Today is a beginning. It's a beginning of what will obviously be a tough and complicated negotiation; peace talks to end a war and to end a struggle like this always are tough.
Frankly, this is a test for all of us who support the Syrian people and their effort to end the extraordinary suffering that the world has witnessed.
This has taken a lot longer than many of us wanted to bring everyone together. We have come here determined to implement the Geneva communiqué.... The Geneva communiqué can only be implemented through the concerted efforts of everyone in this room. Millions of people are relying on the international community's ability to help find a solution that can save their lives and their country.
We see only one option: negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent.
That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way, no way possible, that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can regain legitimacy to govern. One man and those who support him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage. The right to lead a country does not come from torture, nor barrel bombs, nor scud missiles, it comes from the consent of the people.
So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: it is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV
Our main task is to achieve an end to the tragic conflict in Syria, which carries innumerable problems and suffering to the Syrian nation and is destroying this ancient land.
We cannot allow for the wave of convulsions to take hold of neighbouring countries.
We expect all external players will be encouraging the Syrians to reach an agreement, will refrain - and prevent the sides - from attempts to prejudge the final agreements, and from other moves that could undermine the whole process.
The threat of turning Syria into a hotbed for international terrorism has become the most serious problem.
FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS
The objective is not to have a general discussion about Syria, not to try to gain time in some way or to make statements without proof or unfounded accusations.
The objective is to find a political agreement for Syria, for this transitional authority with full executive powers.
This terrible situation, which is killing thousands of innocent women, children and men, exists. We ask from the onset of this conference that one or more cease fires are put into place and that humanitarian corridors are opened and medicines delivered. These measures are indispensable not only to help the population, but for this conference to move forward.
AHMET DAVUTOĞLU, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER
We all know who the "terrorists" in Syria are. I wonder how the representatives of the regime think that they can deceive the entire international community with their lies?
Millions of civilians in Syria are deprived of their basic requirements such as food and medicine; tens of thousands of them are forced to make a choice between surrendering and waiting to die under systematic sieges.
Starvation is used as a weapon of war. These inhumane practices must be brought to an end immediately and should not go unpunished.
How long can the international community continue to look the other way while such carnage goes on in full view? How long will the international community hold back while so many Syrians lose their lives each day at the hands of the regime in Damascus?
The Geneva Communiqué, which this conference will aim to implement, is about political change.... That is the establishment, by mutual consent, of a Transitional Governing Body with full executive powers including all security and intelligence entities. Any attempt to dilute or divert this ultimate goal must be unequivocally rejected at the outset.
A leader and his close associates that have lost their legitimacy and capability to exercise authority in the country - and those who have blood on their hands - cannot stay.
BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY WILLIAM HAGUE
This is your opportunity to put an end to the devastation of your country. Now is the time to choose to save a generation of Syrian children from violence and trauma; to end the sieges being laid to ancient towns and cities; to begin to repair the rich fabric of Syrian society; and to spare millions of Syrian refugees the prospect of years in exile, homelessness and deprivation.
SPOKESMAN FOR THE SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION MONZER AKBIK:
Assad is the problem. We say ‘democracy' they say ‘Assad'. We say ‘freedom', they say ‘Assad'. We say ‘dignity', they say ‘Assad'. They put they whole nation - we're talking about a nation, they're talking about a man. So Assad is the problem and Assad must go in order to start the transition towards democracy.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Peter Graff)