Last updated: 16 February, 2014

Syrian foreign minister says talks did not fail

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem denied on Sunday that a second round of peace talks with the opposition had failed, insisting that “important progress” was made in Geneva.

“The second round did not fail, contrary to media analyses that have appeared and the reactions of the foreign ministers for France and Britain,” Muallem said as he headed back home from Switzerland.

The second round of peace talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition broke off Saturday in Geneva, with no date set for a third round.

“The second round accomplished a very important point,” Muallem said, in statements carried by the state news agency SANA.

“Syria approved the agenda proposed by mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, beginning with the first item, which is on violence and the fight against terrorism,” he said.

“The talks did not fail, we achieved what we have called for constantly, which is an agenda to be discussed in the Geneva meetings to come,” he added.

UN-Arab League envoy Brahimi apologised for the breakdown in the talks but acknowledged at a news conference on Saturday that the two sides had agreed on an agenda for possible future talks.

He said they would discuss violence and terrorism first, then the transitional governing body (TGB), followed by national institutions and finally national reconciliation and national debate.

But he noted that the government refused his proposal to spend one day on violence and the next on political transition “which raises the suspicion of the opposition that the government doesn’t want to discuss TGB at all.”

Britain, France and the United States, which back the uprising against the Syrian regime and have regularly called for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down, have blamed the Syrian government for sinking the talks.

But Muallem said it was “delusional” to imagine that a problem as complex as Syria could be solved quickly.

And he accused Britain and France of being involved in a “conspiracy” against Syria, and said the United States “tried to create a very negative atmosphere for the talks in Geneva.”

The opposition has said, meanwhile, that a new round that fails to discuss a transitional government “would be a waste of time.”

Muallem said he expected Brahimi to serve as a neutral mediator, particularly when he briefs the UN Security Council.

“As a mediator, you should be eager for the continuation of this process, whether for a third or a fourth round or otherwise.”

More than 140,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.