BERLIN -- Skeptical Syrian opposition leaders agreed yesterday to attend an international conference in Rome after first threatening to boycott the session that was to be the centerpiece of Secretary of State John Kerry's first overseas mission in his new job.
Opposition leaders had protested what they see as inaction by other nations in the face of violence from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Kerry not only made a public plea at a joint news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, he also called Moaz Khatib, leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, "to encourage him to come to Rome," a senior U.S. official said.
Spokesman Walid al-Bunni told Al-Arabiya TV the decision to go to Rome was made based on guarantees al-Khatib heard from western diplomats that the opposition would receive real commitments this time. "We will go and we will see if the promises are different this time," he said.
After speaking with Khatib, Kerry flew to Berlin from London, the first stop of his first trip as secretary of state, a hectic nine-country dash through Europe and the Middle East.
Kerry had also dispatched his top Syrian envoy to Cairo in hopes of convincing opposition leaders that their participation was critical to addressing questions from potential donors and securing additional aid from the United States and Europe.
"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming," Kerry told reporters in London after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hague.
In Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the Assad regime was ready to hold talks with opposition leaders, the first time a high Syrian official has said so publicly. He made his comments after meeting in Moscow with Russian officials.