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UN Envoy: Syria Peace Talks to Start Friday

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A Syrian police officer walks past a group of local people standing at a building with a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Salma, Syria, Jan. 22, 2016.

FILE - A Syrian police officer walks past a group of local people standing at a building with a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Salma, Syria, Jan. 22, 2016.

The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said the delayed intra-Syrian peace talks will start at the end of the week, on January 29, and invitations will be sent out Tuesday.

Government backers of different opposition groups have stalemated the talks so far because of their opinions as to who should and who should not be allowed to come to Geneva.

U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said he wants to get the negotiations off on the right foot, so he will not divulge the names of the people on the invitation list.

But, de Mistura noted the Security Council considers the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist organizations, so they will not be invited.

Otherwise, he said the invitations will be broadly based on the principle of inclusiveness. He said women and civil society members, who have been largely absent from previous Syrian peace negotiations, will be present in large numbers.


De Mistrua said the agenda will include discussions of new governance, a new constitution and new elections. But, he added the first priority of the talks will be to achieve a broad cease-fire and to stop the threat posed by IS, also known as ISIL.

“The suspension of fighting regarding ISIL in particular and Al Nusra is not on the table. But, there is plenty of other suspensions of fighting that can take place,” he said.

De Mistura said the talks will begin without preconditions. He said the parties will not be meeting face to face, so he is aiming for proximity talks. He also expects to be involved in a lot of shuttling among the different delegations until direct talks can begin.

He said the negotiations will go on for six months in what he calls a staggered, chronological, proximity approach.

“That will be the way we try to make it different from the past. This is not Geneva three. This is leading to what we hope will be a Geneva success story, if we are able to push it forward,” de Mistura said.

The U.N. mediator said the first round of talks will last between two and three weeks. He said he expects the process to be an uphill battle, with a lot of posturing and many “walk-ins” and “walk-outs” by the participants.

He said the main obstacles to achieving a peace agreement are lack of trust and lack of political will.

Speaking during a visit to Laos Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it is better to wait a few days to open talks and properly set up the process rather than have it fall apart on the first day.

"What we are trying to do is make sure that we are absolutely certain that when they [the talks] start, everybody is clear about roles and what's happening, so that you don't go there and wind up with a question mark or a failure," Kerry said.

Opposition groups

He reiterated U.S. support for the opposition, following comments from opposition officials who said they felt like they were being pressured into the talks.

"The position of the United States is and hasn't changed," Kerry said. "We are still supporting the opposition, politically, financially and militarily."

He also said it is ultimately up to the Syrian parties to decide the future of their country, including the role of President Bashar al-Assad.

"I told them you have a veto, and so does he and so you're going to have to decide how to move forward," he said.

Kerry also downplayed comments from the Syrian government indicating it would not bend on its positions heading into the talks.

The U.N. has twice before tried to broker an agreement for Syria, but that attempt at peace ended two years ago with little progress.

Pam Dockins contributed to this report from Laos.

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