UN ‘sorry’ as Syria talks break off in failure

Agence France-Presse

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(UPDATED) A second round of peace talks between Syria's warring sides broke off Saturday, February 15, without making any progress

TALKS. UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi speaks to the media in the context of the second round of negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition, 15 February 2014. Photo by Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA

GENEVA, Switzerland (UPDATED) – The UN’s Syria envoy said he was “very, very sorry” Saturday, February 15, as peace talks in Geneva broke off with no progress made and no date set for a third round.

Just weeks after the warring parties sat down for the first time to seek a political settlement to the 3-year conflict, a second round ended in acrimony.

“I’m very, very sorry,” UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Geneva as he announced the break-off in talks.

“I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects, and takes their responsibility: do they want this process to continue or not?”

With no guarantee the parties will return to the negotiating table, the death toll continued to mount in Syria where more than 136,000 have died and millions have been driven from their homes.

A monitoring group said this week more than 5,000 people had been killed since the talks began on January 22.

And the UN raised the alarm over Syrian air raids in the Qalamun mountains near the Lebanese border, as thousands fled the opposition-held town of Yabrud amid fears of a ground assault.

In Geneva, the rivals have seemed to agree on only one thing this week: that the negotiations were stalled.

“The regime is not serious… I’m very sorry to say there is nothing positive we can take from this,” opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters after the talks.

The head of the regime’s negotiating team Bashar Jaafari described the other side as “amateurs”, blaming the opposition’s backer the United States for “trying its best to undermine the whole process.”

‘I very much hope there will be a third round’

Brahimi noted that the two sides at least had agreed on an agenda for future talks – if they take place – something they failed to do throughout the week.

“I very much hope there will be a third round,” Brahimi said.

The opposition says the focus must be on creating a transitional government, without President Bashar al-Assad.

The regime representatives have insisted Assad’s position is non-negotiable and refused to discuss anything beyond the “terrorism” it blames on its opponents and their foreign backers.

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

However, he said the regime side balked at his suggestion they 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.”

Safi of the opposition confirmed that suspicion, stressing that “a third round without talking about transition would be a waste of time.”

Jaafari denied his delegation had blocked the process, accusing the opposition of “misleading public opinion” and insisting that the regime “will be back.”

“We don’t have an impasse,” he said.

Brahimi said a break in the talks was needed, calling on “the government side in particular to reassure the other side” that the issue of political transition will be discussed seriously.

“At least we have agreed on an agenda. But we also have to agree on how we tackle that agenda,” he said, to avoid falling into “the same traps that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round.”

‘Talks for show make no sense’

The veteran peacemaker said he would soon travel to New York to report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and would be in touch with the two Syrian delegations “in the not-too-distant future.”

Brahimi said the situation would also be discussed with the United States and Russia, a key ally of Damascus.

He said he would meet with the two countries that instigated the so-called Geneva II peace process, “hopefully” through meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Washington has voiced deep frustration at the stalemate, and chastised Moscow for not doing enough to push its ally to engage “seriously” in the process.

“Talks for show make no sense,” a senior US official said Friday, February 14.

US President Barack Obama vowed on Friday to push the regime harder.

“There will be some intermediate steps that we can take to apply more pressure to the Assad regime,” he said after talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II in California, but did not specify what such steps might be.

The ongoing evacuation of civilians from besieged rebel-held areas of Homs – agreed upon in the first round seen as the only tangible result so far of the Geneva II talks – has been hailed as a relative success.

Brahimi said Saturday the Homs agreement may have sparked hope in Syria that the talks could mark the beginning of the end “of this horrible crisis they are in.”

“I apologize to them that these two rounds have not helped them very much,” he said. – Rappler.com

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