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Syrian sides meet face to face in Geneva but talk via mediator

January 25, 2014, 18:49 UTC+3 GENEVA
1 pages in this article

GENEVA, January 25, /ITAR-TASS/. The first face-to-face meeting between the delegations of the Syrian government and opposition was held in Geneva on Saturday, January 25.

Anas Al-Abdah of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said the round had proceeded calmly, with the sides outlining the goals and objectives for the upcoming meetings and the agenda of the talks.

He confirmed that the delegations had not communicated with each other directly - only the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke.

“The first session has ended - Brahimi spoke for 30 minutes and none of the delegates said anything,” al-Abdah said.

“We will be working on Saturday and we will be working on Sunday. Nobody will be leaving on Saturday and nobody will be leaving on Sunday,” Brahimi said earlier. “The huge ambition of this process is to save Syria, no less than that.”

The envoy said the first session of talks will be “to make sure that we understand what we are doing”, and focus on “practical issues that hopefully will make discussions later easier.”

Brahimi said he hoped for a “good beginning” to talks that “will continue until the end of next week.”

Monzer Akbik, chief of staff to the leader of the main Syrian opposition group, said that the delegations had neither shaken each other hands not sat at a round table. It was a U-shaped table, he added.

If the delegations have a question, they can write it down and pass it over to Brahimi.

National Coalition leader Ahmad al-Jarba and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem are in Geneva but were not present at the morning meeting. Hadi Al Bahra, a member of the Syrian National Coalition's Political Committee, had taken over as the chief negotiator for the opposition. The Syrian government delegation was represented by Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari.

Al-Abdah said the Syrian opposition would “veto” President Bashar al-Assad and any member of his government. He stressed that the opposition delegation’s position on this issue had not changed.

The inter-Syrian talks began in Geneva’s Palais de Nations in the morning and continued for a half hour. The second meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. local time. The delegations plan to discuss a ceasefire, an exchange of POWs, and delivery of relief supplies.

Al-Abdah recalled that the sides had addressed this issue before the start of the Geneva II international conference.

“We had a suggestion prepared for this before the conference began and already spoke about it to the Red Cross and countries that are close to the regime like Russia, as well as United States and the United Nations,” he said. “Our belief is that this suggestion has already made progress and we hope today that we reach a result about it - meaning we ask for a ceasefire in Old Homs so that humanitarian convoys can enter.”

Old Homs is the historical part of the city, a rebel-held area besieged by President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.

“We have asked the [rebel] brigades to respect the ceasefire and to protect the convoys and this in itself will be a good start for such negotiations,” he added.

The Syrian opposition delegation intends to start discussing political issues with the Syrian government in two days, specifically the creation of a transitional governing body, al-Abdah said.

The goal of the international conference on Syria is to achieve a political solution to the three-year-long conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the two sides for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on 30 June 2012, and since endorsed by the UN Security Council.

The communique lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

“It’s very clear to both sides that the 'meat' of the conference is how to implement these positions in the Geneva communique,” Brahimi said.

The conference marks the first time the Syrian government and the opposition will meet for direct talks since the conflict began in March 2011. Hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Joint Envoy Brahimi, the conference is taking place in Switzerland in two parts, opening in Montreux on January 23, 2014, and continuing at the U.N. office in Geneva, on January 24. More than 30 nations have been invited to attend.

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