UN mediator says Syria talks progress unlikely

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GENEVA: The ice is slowly breaking in peace talks between Syria’s warring sides, United Nations (UN) mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), warning though that no substantive results were expected during this round.

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“The ice is breaking, slowly, but it is breaking,” Brahimi told reporters after a fifth day of talks in Geneva, which both sides described as “positive.”

He acknowledged he did not expect “anything substantive” to come out of the initial round, which is set to conclude on Friday.

But he stressed that simply getting the parties talking for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011 was an important step forward.

“These people have not sat together for three years. They do not expect that there’ll be a magic wand,” Brahimi said, insisting he was “not disappointed.”

The delegations from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition National Coalition are set to determine on Friday when they will return to Geneva, likely after a week, Brahimi said.

“I hope that the second session will be more structured and hopefully more productive than the first session,” he said.

Opposition delegation spokesman Louay Safi told reporters the future talks would need to show “substantial progress.”

“We’re not going to stay here month after month just talking without progress,” he said.

Yet after days of total deadlock, both sides voiced a grain of optimism Wednesday, saying the talks had been “positive.”

The discussions had finally focused on the Geneva I communiqué—the never-implemented roadmap to peace put out by global powers during talks here in 2012—but the two sides disagree sharply on what part of the text the talks should focus on.

“Today we had a positive step forward because for the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body,” Safi said.

The opposition says creating the transitional government called for in the Geneva I communique must be the first step towards a political solution, and insists this will require Assad to leave power.

The regime denies the text requires Assad to step down and says his role is not up for debate at this conference.

Regime delegation member Buthaina Shaaban also said talks Wednesday had been “positive,” but said this was “because they spoke about [fighting]terrorism.”

She stressed that the first item in the Geneva text was related to ending the violence in Syria, something the regime largely equates to rooting out the “terrorism” it claims the opposition and its foreign backers are supporting.

“We want to discuss Geneva I item by item, starting from the first item,” she said, accusing the opposition of focusing on the transitional government in a bid to grab power.

AFP

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