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Updated: Wed, 22 Jan 2014 04:21:46 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Syria peace talks have 'formidable' challenges, UN chief says

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (© L-R)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L-R), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov join hands after their tri-lateral meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, January 21, 2014. Syrian and international delegates arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday for peace talks that few believe can succeed as the three-year-old civil war and geopolitical acrimony it has brought show no sign of abating. REUTERS/Gary Cameron Gary Cameron/Reuters

Syrians bear the primary responsibility for ending the civil war in their country, the United Nations secretary-general said Wednesday, opening peace talks that he acknowledged face "formidable" challenges.

Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian government and the Western-backed opposition trying to overthrow it to negotiate in good faith as they meet face-to-face for the first time.

"We know that it has been an extremely difficult path to reach this point. We have lost valuable time and many, many lives. Let me not mince words, the challenges before you and before all of us are formidable. But your presence here raises hope," he said in his opening remarks.

The world's most powerful diplomats — including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart — gathered in Montreux, Switzerland, for the talks, which had been in doubt just two days ago.

But the Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella group representing the opposition, is in disarray, with little influence on rebel brigades fighting in Syria.

Kerry said there is no way that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be part of a transitional government that's being discussed at the international conference.

Kerry said that Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead after an "appalling assault" on his people and cannot regain that legitimacy.

Kerry said the meeting, which is aimed at forming a transitional government for Syria, poses a serious challenge for the world as it marks the beginning of "tough and complicated negotiations." He urged countries present to unite around bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.

Slim hopes, Iran president says

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said he believes there is little hope of success for the Syrian peace talks.

According to the presidential website, Rouhani said hopes are slim because some of the countries attending the talks "are behind instability" in Syria.

Rouhani spoke in the wake of a diplomatic snub to Iran after the United Nations withdrew its invitation to Tehran to attend the talks.

Iran has been Assad's main regional ally and a staunch supporter of his government.

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