Syria peace talks not making much progress, says envoy
Published Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Updated 5:00 pm: Peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition are not making much progress, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Tuesday after a face-to-face meeting of the warring parties in Geneva.
As negotiations intended to end Syria's three-year-old war concluded the second day of this week's session, both sides had no advances to report.
Brahimi, a veteran diplomat charged with running the internationally sponsored talks, said he planned to report to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council within the next few weeks.
"The beginning of this week is as laborious as it was in the first week. We are not making much progress," he told a news conference at United Nations headquarters.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad said Tuesday was a "lost day" while opposition spokesman Louay Safi said "no progress" had been made.
In an attempt to address the main questions confronting the rival delegations, Brahimi had proposed that they discuss ending the violence on Tuesday and the formation of a transitional governing body on Wednesday, delegates say.
But the two issues have caused deep rifts and delayed negotiations, which started last month with little result and resumed this week.
A main issue is the role of President Bashar al-Assad in a transitional governing body. The government says it will not discuss his leaving power while the opposition wants him out.
Mikdad said no agenda had been agreed for the talks, blaming the opposition's refusal to discuss the issue of "terrorism" which he says much be covered first. He said the government considers almost all those fighting it in Syria as "terrorists".
"Today was another lost day because the representatives of the (opposition) Coalition insisted that there is no terrorism in Syria," he said.
National Coalition spokesman Safi said: "It is obvious the regime is stalling and still believes in a military solution."
Specifically, he said the opposition and the government disagreed over the issues of violence and political transition, with the opposition seeing the creation of a transitional governing body as vital to the stability of the country.
Anas Abdah, a strategist in the opposition team, said "the regime is consistently trying to get rid of the transitional governing body. Today it basically refused to discuss it."
A statement from the Coalition said today's session was very tense and accused the government of attempting to "stall the talks".
There had been hopes for Tuesday's talks after they began with a minute of silence for the 100,000 people killed in Syria since the conflict began.
So far, the only tangible result of the talks process has been an agreement to allow aid into the Old City of Homs, where rebels have been under siege for more than year, and to allow people to leave.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that a draft of a new United Nations humanitarian resolution on Syria was "absolutely one-sided "as talks between Syria's government and opposition resumed.
"The ideas that were shared with us by those initiating this process... are absolutely unacceptable and contain an ultimatum for the government, that if they don't solve all this in two weeks then we automatically introduce sanctions," the Russian foreign minister said in Moscow.
"Instead of engaging in everyday, meticulous work to resolve problems that block deliveries of humanitarian aid, they see a new resolution as some kind of simplistic solution," he said.
UN diplomats have tried to persuade Russia to back a new resolution, drafted by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, which "demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, immediately end the sieges of the Old City of Homs."
But Lavrov said focusing on one city and the government's role was "absolutely one-sided and detached from the facts."
"It's as if there are no witness accounts, even from the humanitarian agencies, that the militant groups are the main impediments to the humanitarian operation in Homs and in delivering humanitarian aid to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp," he said.
He added that other Syrian cities like Zahra and Al Hasakah also need to be unblocked, and that the UN needed to focus more on the spread of terrorism in the war-torn country.
"It's time for the Security Council to pay attention to an equally frightening aspect of the Syrian crisis, and that is the growth of terrorism due to the conflict."
"It's time not just to react to the singular manifestations of terrorism," he said. "It's time to... speak out in principle about the terrorist threat, to approach this problem systematically."
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)