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Second round of intra-Syrian talks to end in Geneva with no results

February 15, 2014, 8:05 UTC+3 GENEVA
The sides failed to agree a starting point for the talk on the country’s future
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© AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

GENEVA, February 15, 7:56 /ITAR-TASS/. The second round of intra-Syrian talks called upon to end a three-year civil war in Syria is to end in Geneva on Saturday, with no substantive results expected.

The efforts of joint United Nations and Arab League special Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to make negotiators from the Syrian government and opposition, represented by the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), who gathered in Switzerland, to even formulate the agenda, were vain.

The sides failed to agree a starting point for the talk on the country’s future.

The first round of the Geneva-2 international peace conference on Syria ended on January 31 with no substantive results. The parties to the Syrian conflict resumed talks on February 10. Geneva-2, organized by Russia and the United States, seeks to negotiate a solution to the Syrian crisis which has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced millions since its start in 2011.

When the second round of Geneva-2 kicked off on Monday in the Palace of Nations, the headquarters of the UN Office in Geneva, the two Syrian delegations gathered in one room only twice, spending together overall slightly more than three hours.

There was nothing like that on Friday - Brahimi spoke first to the government delegation, then to the opposition, after which he canceled a traditional press briefing. No one was surprised because at the start of the second round of talks as part of Geneva-2, Brahimi, the veteran of Algerian diplomacy, warned that he would only answer questions from journalists if he had what to say. Judging by what has been going on in the recent days, he does not have much to say.

However, representatives of both parties to the Syrian conflict decided to talk to the press on Friday. They said nothing fundamentally new, but again demonstrated that the negotiating positions with which the Syrian delegations had been leaving Geneva after the first round of talks in late January had not become closer over two weeks.

The representatives in fact reiterated that they want peace for Syria and its people, but exclusively on their own conditions, because the other side’s position is not constructive and is only dictated by selfish interests having nothing to do with the hopes of ordinary Syrians.

Syrian opposition spokesman Luai Safi said the process of talks was in a deadlock.

“It is not only our conviction, we see that the talks are not going anywhere. We would like to see more good will on the part of the regime, if it is possible,” Safi said. He added that the situation became blocked because official Damascus refuses to discuss the establishment of a transitional governing body as “the key tool to return the life in the country to normal.”

The position of the Syrian government delegation is that the fight against terrorism should be discussed at the talks first and a transitional governing body later. But the Syrian opposition apparently believes the transitional government issue, mentioned in the Geneva Communique, should top the discussion agenda.

The Geneva Communique was adopted on June 30, 2012 at a conference of an “action group” on Syria in Geneva. That conference is now commonly referred to as “Geneva-1.” Geneva-2 is its logical continuation.

Opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime constantly reiterate that the incumbent authorities have proven their incapacity and a transitional government with no place for Assad or his entourage is required, to take the country out of the current crisis.

That transitional governing body will resolve all problems - overcome terrorism, stop hostilities, oust foreign mercenaries and hold elections. “We realize that a political solution is the only way. A military scenario would lead to destruction,” Safi said.

The Syrian government delegation’s position is also unchanged: the delegation is ready to discuss the establishment of a transitional governing body in the Middle East country only after violence is stopped and the problem of terrorism resolved.

“The fight against terrorism is the desire and hope of the entire Syrian nation,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Friday.

”We have come to Geneva with a sincere desire to put an end to terrorism and violence, to discuss the remaining provisions of the [Geneva] Communique, but the other party does not admit that there is terrorism in Syria. The opposition only wants to discuss a transitional governing body,” Mekdad said. “Unfortunately, this round brought no progress.”

Reluctant to yield on key issues, the negotiators have failed to start proper dialogue, refusing to discuss topics in parallel groups as proposed by Brahimi.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the United Nations reported that over 1,000 people cannot be evacuated from the Syrian city of Homs where a truce has been in effect for a week, due to destroyed neighborhoods. Overall, according to the global organization, there are about 40 cities and towns in Syria whose population do not get humanitarian aid and cannot leave them due to hostilities. Some 250,000 people are in such a situation.

A peaceful forum of Russia and the United States failed to unblock the situation. On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman met with Brahimi, and then held meetings with the Syrian delegations.

The Russian diplomat met with the government delegation, and the US diplomat with the opposition. However, this failed to get things moving too. Statements made in Moscow and Washington showed that Russia and the United States had different positions.

“Following two rounds of intra-Syrian talks, we have an impression that when those who ensured the opposition’s participation in the process called to make the provision on a transitional governing body the focus of the communiquй implementation, they meant a regime change,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, in turn, spoke for support of a draft resolution, submitted earlier this week by the Australian, Jordanian and Luxembourg delegations, which sets an ultimatum that demands ensuring humanitarian access to the Syrian population and contains the threat of sanctions.

Brahimi is today expected to once again hold separate meetings with the Syrian delegations, after which he is to give a press briefing.

As regards a likely third round of talks, its date has apparently not been set yet. Next week may bring more clarity after the international community’s envoy holds a briefing for the UN secretary general and probably speaks in the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, a source in the Syrian opposition coalition told Itar-Tass on Wednesday that the Syrian sides planned to return to Geneva on February 24.

An international deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, mediated in September 2013, prevented a likely US-led military intervention in the Middle East country.

The process of disarmament in Syria was launched after hundreds of civilians died in a chemical attack made on a Damascus suburb in August 2013. The most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons are to be destroyed at sea by the end of March, and the rest by June 30, 2014.

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