UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (C) opens the so-called Geneva II peace talks next to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (L) on January 22, 2014 in Montreux. Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINIFABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Syria: Rebels can't be arsonist, fireman
02:17 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: "The solution for Syria should be made by the Syrian people," says one official

Wednesday's session an important "first, small step," U.N. chief says

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry says Bashar al-Assad has lost "legitimacy to govern"

Dozens of world powers are meeting to try to help end a war that has killed 100,000

CNN  — 

A preliminary session of Syrian peace talks meant to end three years of bloodshed was an important “first, small step,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday after a morning of bitter exchanges.

Speaking to reporters after the first leg of talks, Ban said a “difficult road” lay ahead, but the time had come for negotiations.

“We did not expect instant breakthroughs from today’s conference, but the seriousness and horror of the situation has focused all minds, and there is a determination that all parties will find a way to peace,” he said.

“We have a difficult road ahead, but it can be done and it must be done. It is still not too late to end the bloodshed and find the peaceful and democratic future. The moment to act decisively and courageously is now.”

Syria earlier had struck a defiant tone, laying a record of atrocities – rape, arson, even the destruction of Syrian culture itself – at the feet of rebels and chiding outsiders for trying to interfere.

“This is a Syrian conflict, and it will remain as such,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the conference.

His remarks came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the path to peace had to involve the world community, and could not include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he accused of widespread human rights abuses.

“Mr. Kerry,” al-Moallem said, “nobody in the world has the right to get rid of the legitimacy of a president or a constitution or a law or anything in Syria except the Syrian people themselves.”

His comments were echoed by Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to al-Assad.

“Why do they decide from the Western world that Bashar al-Assad stands in the way for peace? Do we have the right to decide that any Western leader is not good for his people? Or is it the people usually who decide in every country who should be president?” she asked CNN.