Jonathan Fowler and Nina Larson, AFP
Last updated: 11 February, 2014

Syria talks “laborious,” says UN envoy

The latest round of Syria peace talks has made little progress, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Tuesday, calling on the government and the opposition to stop the “nightmare” of the civil war.

“The beginning of this week is as laborious as it was the first week,” Brahimi told reporters after the warring sides held their first face-to-face talks since the second round of negotiations opened on Monday.

“We are not making much progress.”

The new round of the so-called Geneva II talks got off to a shaky start on Monday and there was little sign that Tuesday’s face-to-face meeting had seen more than a restating of positions.

The opposition says the only way to end the three-year conflict is to form a transitional government — without President Bashar al-Assad.

“The regime is not even budging on this, insisting that they want to talk about one thing,” said opposition spokesman Louay Safi.

The regime insists Assad’s future is non-negotiable and that the talks must focus on halting “terrorism” — its term for a revolt it says is fuelled by foreign jihadists and Gulf money.

Deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad said the government was ready to discuss all points but that terrorism must top the agenda.

Brahimi appealed to all parties to “help Syria out of the nightmare its people have been living through now for three years”.

“Violence and terrorism, this is what the Syrian people want to put an end to, isn’t that so? And how can this end without an agreement on the steps to be taken on the future of the country?” he said.

But he added: “I’m not sure whether I can impose an agenda on people who don’t want. How can you put a gun on their heads? It is their country.”

An eight-day session last month achieved little beyond getting the foes into the same room for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

The current round is set to last until Friday, but there is little hope it will make progress towards ending the civil war that has now claimed the lives of more than 136,000 people and sent millions fleeing their homes.

The two sides spent Monday trading blame for escalating violence and for difficulties evacuating civilians and getting aid to opposition-held districts of the city of Homs, under government siege since 2012.

An agreement on evacuating civilians from Homs and bringing in aid was the only tangible result of the January 24-31 talks but the mission only began last week.

“You know that Homs can be called success, but it has been six months in the making. Six long months… to get 800 people out, and a little bit of food in,” Brahimi said.

He also said there were a host of other besieged communities where “nothing has happened”.

The opposition has warned it will not return for more talks if there is no progress this week.

The United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key Damascus ally, initiated the Geneva II talks based on a call for a transition government made by world powers at a 2012 conference.

Russia has proposed that Moscow and Washington hold a collective meeting with the UN and the two sides to break the deadlock.