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January 27, 2014

No Breakthrough in Syria Talks, Brahimi Says

by Lisa Schlein

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Syrian government and opposition delegates will begin tackling the thorny issue of a possible transitional government when the Syrian peace talks resume on Tuesday.

Brahimi, addressing a news conference in Geneva after meeting both sides, said that there was an apparent will to continue the negotiations to end the nearly three-year war.

Still, the Syrian government and opposition remain deeply divided on all issues.

Earlier in the day, opposition spokesman Munther Akbeik said his delegation had come to talk about a transfer of power and a new interim government but that President Bashar al-Assad's delegation refused to discuss the subjects.

He said Brahimi and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the opposition that the goal of the conference was to discuss a political transition in Syria but that the Assad government was ignoring the agenda, as set forth in the invitation to attend.

Syrian government media advisor Boutheina Sha'aban told the press, however, that it would be impossible to broker any agreement unless the opposition discussed the subject of foreign fighters in Syria and terrorism.
“There are 83 countries which are sending foreign fighters to Syria. What we are saying-and that's what the Geneva I conference said-is 'let us stop the fighting, stop the terrorism and launch a political process where Syrians decide the future of Syria," he stated.

The possible future role of Assad.is a topic to be discussed within the framework of the Geneva 1 Declaration. The declaration calls for the formation of a transitional government. 

The Western-backed opposition group said that Assad has lost all legitimacy and should not be included in any furture government.  The Syrian government rejects any attempts to remove Assad.
 
Brahimi said he does not know how to bridge this gap.  He said the best he can hope for is to get the two opposing factions to start the debate on the transitional process when they resume discussions Tuesday.
 
“Then we are going to decide with them how we are going to proceed in discussing its many elements," he said. "One of them is, of course, the composition of the governing body with full executive powers. But we will definitely not start with that.  It is probably the most complicated subject.” 
 
Little progress 

After four days of negotiations, Brahimi acknowledged little progress has been made toward finding a solution to the conflict which has gone on for nearly three years with tremendous loss of life.
 
He said the peace talks mainly have been dealing with confidence building measures aimed at developing a better atmosphere between the two parties.  But these, he said, have made no headway.  

Brahimi said thatt the Syrian parties were still discussing how women and children can leave the beseiged city of Homs, but that there had been no decision on allowing access for an aid convoy.

“There was an agreement by the government that women and children can come out of the old city in Homs," he said. "I think they are still discussing how that should be done.  I think the government is willing to make that happen.

"But it is not easy because there are snipers and there are all sorts of problems," he said. "The convoy of food and non-food items and medical supplies—there is no decision yet to let them in.” 
 
Homs is not the only city in Syria that is under siege.

Brahimi said women, children and men are suffering from lack of food, medical care and other essential supplies in other areas under the control of the government or rebels.  He said he is asking the two parties to open up these areas so aid can get to the people in need.

​​Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said Western powers appear to be focusing on the aid issue as the only area where agreement can be reached.

“Geneva II is just another symbolic gesture by the international community to show they are doing something to help salvage the situation in Syria. Unfortunately, we are still lacking any genuine moves to pressure both sides on the ground to make concessions to bring about tangible results,” said Kahwaji.

State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez criticized the Syrian government for refusing to allow an aid convoy into Homs, insisting that the “situation (there) is desperate and people are starving.” He called the government's offer to evacuate the city a “despicable policy” of “kneel or starve.”

VOA's Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo.