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Syria Peace Talks Recess with Little Progress

The first round of peace talks between Syria's warring sides ended Friday, with little progress on how to end the fighting and get humanitarian aid to besieged areas.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said the Syrian government and the opposition "had engaged in an acceptable manner" during a week of discussions in Geneva. But he said "the gaps between the sides remain wide."

Brahimi described the talks as "a modest beginning on which we can build." He said the next round of negotiations would begin February 10, pending agreement from the Syrian government.

The warring parties agreed to use a 2012 communique as the basis for a roadmap to peace.

But the government of Bashar al-Assad made clear it wanted to start by addressing terrorism. On Thursday, it presented a resolution calling for an end to the funding of "terrorist acts."

The opposition rejected this as "one-sided," saying it is useless to discuss without first forming a transitional government.

The Syrian government suggested opposition delegates rejected the terrorism issue because they themselves are terrorists.

There has also been little progress on bringing aid to the hardest-hit areas of Syria's civil war, an issue where many thought common ground could be found.

Brahimi said he was "very, very disappointed" the U.N. has not been able to deliver aid to the besieged, rebel-held city of Homs, where many are said to be starving.

Stephen Zunes, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of San Francisco, tells VOA that making even limited progress on Syria's humanitarian crisis is a useful starting point.

"Even on this issue, there's going to be a lot of posturing on both sides. But this is one area where we can conceivably get some mode of cooperation between the rebels and the government and that could possibly help establish a level of trust that could eventually get to more substantive issues."

Although it is considered a success that the two sides agreed to meet at all, Zunes said there no expectations of a real breakthrough in the near future.

"Basically, it's a lose-lose situation. Neither side can win a military victory. More people are going to die. And that is really not in the interest of either side."

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 as peaceful protests against the government before spiraling into a civil war that the U.N. says has killed more than 100,000 people and forced nearly 9 million from their homes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is calling on Syria to speed up efforts to give up its chemical weapons for destruction.

Speaking in Germany Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said "there is no legitimate reason" for the delays in delivering and destroying the weapons.

Kerry called on Mr. Assad and Syria to "live up to its obligations," or the U.S. will consider further steps, noting that "all options are on the table."

Before Damascus agreed to surrender its chemical weapons, the U.S. had threatened limited air strikes on targets belonging to the Syrian government, which Washington blamed for a deadly chemical attack.

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