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Syrian talks in Geneva: no light seen at the end of the tunnel

February 14, 2014, 4:54 UTC+3 GENEVA
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GENEVA, February 14, (ITAR-TASS). The second round of the inter-Syrian talks is drawing to an end in Geneva but no light is seen up to now at the end of the tunnel. Friday, in theory, is the last but one day in the present series of meetings whic involve a Syrian government delegation, on the one hand, and that of the opposition as represented by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCROF), on the other.

However, this is only in theory. On Thursday, for the first time since the Geneva-2 peace conference was started at the end of January, the sides not only kept away from the negotiating table but did not even held separate consutations with Lakhdar Brahimi, UN/LAS joint representative on Syria, with whose mediation discussions have been held.

"Syria is inside a dark tunnel and we here make attempts at finding gleams of light at the end of this tunnel. And we are still looking for such gleams," Brahimi acknowledged at a news conference on Thursday. He said that in the lack of an agenda, no dialogue had begun on any subject that each of the delegations considers to be principled. The purpose of the government is to fight terrorism and stop violence while the oppoents of the present authorities press for the formation of a transitional governing body, in which there would be no room either for President Bashar Assa or anyone from among his entourage.

Brahimi himself at the beginning of the week suggested discussing two themes in a parallel manner, to which the delegations did not give consent. Unwilling to make concessions on the principled matters, the sides virtually decline to speak to each other. This does not allow the process to make headway if only by small steps towards taking confidence-building measures on the basis of which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called for conducting a dialogue. This refers to local cessations of fire and an exchange of lists of detainees and kidnapped people.

As the only positive aspect, Brahimi mentioned the temporary truce in the city of Homs, from the old quarters of which 1,400 civilians have been evacuated within the week. But he immediately recalled that UN and Red Crescent staff had been fired upon and that there remain a dozen of other cities in that country, access to which has been barred for humanitarian personnel.

Now that there is an utter lack of headway "inside", and the negotiating process has reached an impasse, the role of outside players, primarily Russia and the United States, which had suggested the Geneva-2 peace conference, is coming to the fore. In an attempt to add "constructivism" to the sides, as a Russian diplomat put it, a trilateral meeting in the RF-USA-UN format was held in Geneva on Thursday. For two hours Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Brahimi held closed-door discussions.

As a result of the consultations, the Algerian diplomat said the RF and the USA promised to help in unblocking the inter-Syrian talks. "The meeting in the trilateral format was very important," he said. "The RFand the USA promisid here and in the capitals to help forward the process, in which there is little progress." Brahimi did not specify which particual help Moscow and Washington would give and what arguments they would find for the two delegations. However, the Russian and American diplomats did not shelve the matter and went ahead with work immediately following the close of the trilateral meeting. Gatilov set out for a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Miniser while Sherman went out for talks with the opposition's delegation.

What will be the direction of the process and, actually whether there will be a third found of of meetings will depend on the outcome of these contacts.

Both delegations assure that they intend to return to the shore of Lake Geneva but do not mention any date for that and continue to accuse each other of an utter lack of a constructive approach, without which to see light at the end of the tunnel is a no easy task.

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