March 12, 2014
Syria talks end first round, government uncommitted to return
A contentious week-long first round of Syrian peace talks ended today with no progress towards ending the civil war and the government delegation unable to say whether it will return for the next round in 10 days.
UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who has tirelessly pursued a peace deal that other diplomats consider "mission impossible", said the opposition delegation would be back on Feb. 10, but President Bashar al-Assad's delegates had told him they would have to check with Damascus before agreeing to return.
"They didn't tell me that they are thinking of not coming. On the contrary, they said that they would come, but they needed to check with their capital," Brahimi told a news conference.
Brahimi listed 10 simple points that he felt the two sides agreed on in the talks and said he thought there was more common ground than the sides recognised.
But neither side has budged an inch from their main positions: the opposition wants the talks to focus on a transitional administration it says will remove Assad from power; the government wants to talk about fighting "terrorism" - a word it uses to refer to all its armed foes.
"Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptible manner," Brahimi said.
Expectations had always been low for a breakthrough on political issues at the talks, the first between Assad's representatives and his foes in a war that has killed 130,000 Syrians and driven a third of the population from their homes.
The sides also failed to achieve more modest aims, like an agreement to allow aid convoys into Homs, Syria's third largest city, where thousands of civilians are trapped with no access to food or medicine.
"Homs was extensively discussed, although unfortunately there has been no breakthrough yet," Brahimi said.