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Another day of intra-Syrian talks starts, no progress reached

February 13, 2014, 7:31 UTC+3 GENEVA
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GENEVA, February 13, 6:58 /ITAR-TASS/. Fourth day of the second round of intra-Syrian talks begins here on Thursday with no progress reached until now. The parties are leaving Switzerland at the end of this week, but they are set to return here to continue the negotiating process.

On Wednesday, United Nations-League of Arab States mediator Lakhdar Brahimi managed to have the delegations of the Syrian government and the opposition represented by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) gathered in the same room. The two-hour meeting however yielded no results.

The delegations, which have been failing to agree on the agenda since the Geneva II start in late January, again disagreed over what was to be the starting point for a dialogue. The opposition has been refusing to speak about anything but a transitional government and, following this logic, it presented its proposals on the conflict settlement on Wednesday. The 24-article document outlined the principles to establish a transitional government body, which was provided by the Geneva communiquй. Thus, the opposition maintains that the first point on the agenda is the formation of a transition government that would be later tasked to realize all the provisions of the communiquй. Such government, according to the document, would tackle the entire range of Syria’s problems: it would ensure sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, stop violence and facilitate humanitarian deliveries, release political prisoners, work out a new constitution and hold elections.

The government delegation provided no answer to this proposal, persistently saying that it was ready to discuss any subjects but only in the order fixed in the Geneva communiquй, i.e. first to counteract terrorism, stop violence and only after that to tackle the issue of a transitional governing body.

A deputy Syrian foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, said a joint statement on the fight against terrorism should be adopted for talks to succeed. “The fight against terrorism should remain a priority,” he said. Mekdad stressed that the government delegation would discuss the Geneva communique item after item. In his words, any deviation from this sequence would be catastrophic and would lead to the frustration of talks.

A way out of this dead end might be the discussion of these subjects in parallel groups, a move suggested by Lakhdar Brahimi a day before. But neither of the parties seems to be willing to accept it.

Syrian government delegation believes it would be illogical to discuss simultaneously the struggle with terrorism and the setting up of an interim government, Buthaina Shaaban, an advisor to President Bashar al-Assad told reporters Wednesday. Apart from being illogical, it would also be highly counterproductive, she said.

Meanwhile, Luai Safi, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said that the opposition delegation was willing to meet with the opponents in the same room to talk over important things, since such conversation could be postponed. He once again repeated that the issue in question was the formation of a transitional governing body.

Journalists however were not surprised to hear that the United Nations-League of Arab States mediator had once again cancelled his traditional evening briefing. Earlier, he said he would appear before journalists only when he had anything to tell them. Apparently, he had nothing to say this time either.

It is not clear how to make progress in a situation when the parties are sticking to such irreconcilable positions. So, the focus moves to foreign players, primarily to the initiators of the peace conference - the United States and Russia.

On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov met in Geneva with Syria’;s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. After this meeting, he told journalists that the fight against terrorism and the formation of a transitional governing body were issues of equal importance. “I think the parties will be able to solve these taksk in the course of negotiations,” he said, adding the comprehensive approach to the agenda was quite logical.

On Thursday, Gatilov will meet with U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. The latter plans to give a news conference after this meeting. One can only hope he will have something to say this time.

In the meantime, the timeframes of the current round are becoming clear. According to Buthaina Shaaban, the government delegation would leave Geneva on Sunday, February 16. So, it looks like the round will be over on Saturday, February 15. After about a week’s break, the parties plan to come back to Geneva.

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