LONDON -- A Syrian government official said on Thursday that long-postponed peace talks under international auspices -- known in diplomatic shorthand as Geneva II -- could be held in late November, raising speculation about who would attend and who would represent the fractured Syrian opposition, which is seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The official, Qadri Jamil, a deputy prime minister, said in Moscow that the discussions could be held in Geneva on Nov. 23, according to SANA, the official Syrian news agency. Some reports from Moscow quoted him as saying the talks could extend into Nov. 24. His remarks were the first to publicly mention a specific date.
Diplomacy surrounding Syria has gathered pace since September, when Russia and the United States brokered a deal for the Syrian government to give up its chemical weapons. But as the fighting continues, the question of which countries and which Syrian factions would take part in new talks remained unanswered.
At the United Nations, Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that he could not confirm the dates mentioned by Mr. Jamil, and hinted that talk of a date was premature. "When it is time for an announcement, the secretary general will make one," Mr. Nesirky said.
The SANA agency said Mr. Jamil spoke on Thursday after talks with Russia's Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, that the agency said were fruitful.
Mr. Jamil is one of two Syrian government ministers from officially tolerated opposition parties who have been appointed since the civil unrest in the country mushroomed into a full-blown civil war. While he is often seen as having little or no authority over government policy, the fact that his remarks on Thursday were carried by the state news agency suggested they had some kind of imprimatur.
In the first round of discussions in Geneva in June 2012, major world powers failed to reach a consensus among themselves on the key question of whether to call for the ouster of President Assad, a demand advanced by opposition groups in return for their participation in any peace negotiations. The nine nations at the meeting agreed instead on a plan for a political transition in Syria, with Russia and China blocking attempts by other participants to require Mr. Assad's removal from power.
Mr. Jamil said the proposed Geneva II conference would aim to establish "a government that represents the basic sides of the government and the opposition," SANA reported. Any groups who "fail to attend will lose," he was quoted as saying.
The United States and Russia have been trying to convene the gathering since May. Mr. Jamil said the Syrian opposition was responsible for the delays, SANA reported.
Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian opposition coalition, said at a news conference in New York in late September that he was prepared to participate in new peace talks, but that he wanted assurances of a "clear timetable" for achieving results, not "an open-ended dialogue with the regime."
Mr. Jarba's coalition has suffered some defections over the last month, as a number of rebel groups inside Syria broke their ties with the coalition and accused its members, living in exile, of being detached from the fighting and the hardships inside the country.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 17, 2013 2:01 PM