News / Middle East

Gaps Are 'Wide' as Syria Talks Wrap Up First Round in Geneva

Syria Talks to Continue After Difficult First Roundi
February 01, 2014 12:28 AM
Syrian negotiators are expected to meet again, probably in 10 days, after a week of talks in Geneva that the mediator says did not make “any progress to speak of,” but did lay the foundation for future negotiations. Still, the government has not confirmed that it will attend. VOA's Al Pessin reports from London.
Syria Talks to Continue After Difficult First Round
Al Pessin
U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi wrapped up the first round of Syria peace talks in Geneva Friday reporting little progress on key issues of how to end the fighting and get much-needed humanitarian aid to besieged areas.

Brahimi told reporters the next round is set to begin on February 10, pending agreement from the Syrian government. Still, the government has not confirmed that it will attend.

Brahimi was frank during his press conference, saying "The gaps between the sides remain wide; there is no use pretending otherwise."

Lakhdar Brahimi's points of agreement between Syria's warring parties:
-Discussing the implementation of the Geneva Communique
-Establishing at transitional governing body
-The urgent need to bring violence to an end
-The future of Syria must be determined by the Syrian people
-No loss of Syrian territory will be accepted
-The Syrian people want a genuinely democratic Syria
-The humanitarian situation musts be addressed rapidly
-Violent extremism and terrorism must be rejected
​But he added he observed a "little bit of common ground."

Brahimi presented 10 points he believes the two sides agree on. But he acknowledged the list did not amount to much, mainly consisting of general statements about the need to negotiate a solution, ease the suffering of the Syrian people and build a country with respect for democracy and human rights.

"Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner," he said. "This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build.”

The two sides could not reach agreement on humanitarian issues.

But Brahimi said that during eight days of “difficult” meetings, the government and opposition delegations got used to sitting in the same room, something it was initially not clear whether they would do at all.

“They have presented positions, and listened to one another," he said. "There have been moments when one side has even acknowledged the concerns and the difficulties and the point of view of the other side.”

Sides far apart

But there was little evidence of that in the two sides' news conferences Friday, as they accused each other of bringing terrorism to Syria and prolonging the suffering of its people.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said the opposition delegation is not representative and cannot control many of the armed groups. He said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will decide whether the government delegation returns to Geneva.

“He will first read our reports about what's happened this week and accordingly he will discuss with us, the government also, and then the decision will be taken,” he said.

Moualem said if it returns, the government will discuss any aspect of the agenda, including the goal of establishing a transitional governing body. But he indicated that would not require Assad to step down.

The opposition disagrees. But spokesman Louay Safi was encouraged that the transition authority will at least be on the agenda if the talks resume.

“I'm sure this will be a very difficult process, but we will have to go through it," he said. "Saving Syria is really worth every second we spend here, even knowing that sometimes we are moving little, or moving nowhere.”

Indeed, no one expects the Syrian government to negotiate itself out of existence.

Middle East expert Hannah Poppy of the Risk Advisory Group said the February talks are not likely to achieve much more than the January talks did.

“This is very much a very early stage of any kind of negotiations, and what all sides have said will be a very long-term process," Poppy said. "I think potentially at the very least months, but more realistically years.”

And that is not good news for the Syrian people, who have been suffering through nearly three years of war, something the mediator urged both sides to keep in mind as they prepare for what he hopes will be another round of talks.

Images From Syria
  • Smoke rises after what activists describe as barrel bombs are dropped by government forces in Daraya, near Damascus, Jan. 31, 2014.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he walks along a damaged street in the besieged area of Homs, Jan. 30, 2014.
  • A man and children sit around a fire in the besieged area of Homs, Jan. 30, 2014.
  • Men walk on the rubble of a damaged mosque in the besieged area of Homs, Jan. 30, 2014.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center shows Syrian men helping a wounded man after a government airstrike in Aleppo, Jan. 29, 2014.
  • A woman stands along a damaged street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, Jan. 29, 2014. 
  • A man walks past damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, Jan. 29, 2014.
  • A girl and boy are shaken as they stand near a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 29, 2014. 
  • People walk on rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 29, 2014. 
  • A young girl cries at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces, Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 29, 2014. 

Killings continue

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said 1,870 people had been killed during this week's talks, including 450 civilians and 40 who died from inadequate access to food and medicine in areas besieged by government troops.

Brahimi said Thursday 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.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration urged Syria to speed up efforts to give up its chemical weapons for destruction. Speaking in Germany Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "there is no legitimate reason" for the delays in delivering and destroying the weapons.

Kerry called on President 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."

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 well over 100,000 people and forced nearly 9 million from their homes.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters news agency.

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Comment Sorting
by: MikeBarnett from: USA
January 31, 2014 4:15 PM
Most forget that negotiations have two sides. Each side believes that they have the one true and correct opinion. Add to that the casualties inflicted by both sides against both sides, and intransigence can make compromise difficult and slow. However, it offers the best way for improvements, but some countries, such as the US and some in the EU, must remember that this is Syria's Civil War, and the solution may not conform to the West's political ideals. After Iraq and Afghanistan, few in the West want to slaughter their children in someone else's war.

by: john237 from: usa
January 31, 2014 2:11 PM
Sadly speaking the Syrian crisis, killings, destruction and human sufferings is created by the civilized nations including the USA. Hillary Clinton and Obama must take blame for this human tragedy.

They started arming the foreign and national rebels and Jihadis using Arab oil fund to topple Assad from the power and install one more Wahabi kingdom and punish Iran-Hizbullah and failed miserably..

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
January 31, 2014 1:00 PM
The outcome only proved true polls results before the meetings that showed it would not achieve anything. Anything here does not include that they agreed at all to sit in the same place to talk face to face. If they have talked face to face and still remain where they were when they were mudslinging, what difference does it make? That as it is, saying each side accused the other of bringing terrorism into Syria is just to have them saying something. Assad's regime has been foul of this since the days of support to Hezbollah culminating in the killing of Rafiq Hariri by terrorist styled remote-controlled car bombing. More than just that, Syria, as in every other Arab country, has been involved in terrorism against Israel and the west.
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
February 01, 2014 6:28 AM
Here is a media house that preaches freedom of expression and freedom of the press and yet represses same. This article you published in part contains other aspects which in no way infringe on anyone's rights but is rather expository and can help make informed decisions. This is an organization that published elaborately the virtues of Jullian Assange and Edward Snowden who exposed your government, yet you censor my contributions so often. Let me quote what you have just published in another article here: “If people are not free to express themselves through journalism or these other media it has a super chilling effect on free speech, on people’s willingness to involve themselves in politics". (Article: CONCERN VOICED ABOUT MEDIA REPRESSION IN MIDDLE EAST; 31/01/2014 By Brian Pradden) If you can write this and at the same time censor my contribution, is it not hypocrisy?

by: Muhamad Magnush from: Jordan
January 31, 2014 11:25 AM
the real cruel joke here is that none of these fools have any influence on events on the ground... so they sit, discuss, accuse, eat, drink, entertain at American expanse... and for what end..?? Syria would have to be partitioned - eventually... even an Idiot like Kerry can see that... and we all know that... Iraq must be partitioned too... why should we try to preserve artificial corrupt British boundaries..??

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