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Kerry says meeting with Syrian rebel group possible

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has not met representatives of Syria's Islamic Front but a meeting is possible to broaden the representation of moderate opposition groups in talks to end the Syrian war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.

The United Nations has scheduled a peace conference on Syria for January 22 in Geneva to discuss a political transition to lead the country out of war. Key issues over who will attend remain to be ironed out.

"The United States has not met to date with the Islamic Front but it's possible it could take place," Kerry told a news conference in Manila where he is visiting.

"There is an effort afoot among all of the supporting nations of the Syrian opposition to want to broaden the base of the moderate opposition and broaden the base of representation of the Syrian people in the Geneva two negotiation," he added.

State Department officials have said talks with the Islamic Front could include lower-level officials from the United States, Britain and France.

The Islamic Front alliance, a union of six major rebel groups, has overshadowed the more moderate Free Syrian Army brigades, which are led by the Supreme Military Council (SMC) and backed by Western and Arab powers.

The group has rejected the authority of the SMC, the main opposition's military wing. A week ago, the Islamic Front seized control of SMC weapons depots in northern Syria although reasons for the move are unclear.

Last week, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. mediator, set a deadline of December 27 for the opposition and Damascus to name their delegations for next month's talks but opposition sources said there were no plans to make a final decision before then.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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