December 20, 2014
Syria opposition refuses to meet government in Geneva talks
Syria's first peace talks have faltered before they began, with opponents of President Bashar al-Assad refusing to meet his delegation unless it first signs up to a protocol calling for a transitional government.
Plans were ditched at the last minute for the two sides to sit down to talk face to face for the first time. Instead, they would each meet separately with a UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.
The closed-door discussions were due to begin today, two days after a formal opening conference was held in a poisonous atmosphere, with both sides and their global backers making uncompromising public speeches. Any direct meeting appears unlikely for now.
The opposition says it has come to discuss a transition that will remove Assad from power. The government says it is there only to talk about fighting terrorism - the word it uses for its enemies - and no one can force Assad to go.
Opposition delegates decided they would not meet the government delegation unless it endorsed "Geneva 1", a 2012 protocol that calls for a political transition.
"We have explicitly demanded a written commitment from the regime delegation to accept Geneva 1. Otherwise there will be no direct negotiations," opposition delegate Haitham al-Maleh told Reuters.
A UN spokeswoman confirmed Brahimi would meet the delegates separately: "There are no Syrian-Syrian talks at the moment," said Alessandra Vellucci. "I cannot tell you anything about what will happen in the next few days."
Even before the announcement that the direct talks were cancelled, the outlook was dim.
"The objective is for the first round of talks to last until next Friday, but expectations are so low we'll see how things develop day by day," a Western diplomat said.
"Every day that they talk is a little step forward."