Vatican hosts Syria peace meeting

High level meeting draws international experts

The Vatican will host a high level meeting next week in an attempt to secure a ceasefire in Syria.

On Monday, at the invitation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, eight international leaders and specialists will gather in Rome for a day of talks aimed at finding an effective way of securing an end to the nearly two years of fighting in the Middle Eastern nation.

Those invited to the meeting are: Tony Blair, former British prime minister and current envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East – the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States; Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was a prominent figure in Egyptís revolution to remove Hosni Mubarak; Jeffrey Sachs, a leading US economist; Thomas Walsh, expert in peace building and interreligious dialogue; Pyotr Stegny, a former diplomat and expert in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy in the Middle East; Joseph Maila, a Lebanese expert in Middle East politics; Miguel Angel Moratinos, a Spanish diplomat with previous experience in the Middle East peace process, and Thierry de Montbrial, a French specialist in international relations.

The delegates will be welcomed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and will conduct their discussions amid reports that a December 28 letter sent by President Bashar al Assad indicated to Pope Francis that the Syrian president is ready for peace talks if the issue of foreign backing for rebel groups can be resolved.

The Vatican meeting comes ahead of the United Nations-backed Geneva II peace talks set for January 22.