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Syria Peace Talks Set to End with Little Progress

The first round of peace talks involving Syria's government and opposition is set to wrap up Friday, with very little progress on key issues.

An agreement to meet again - likely in one week - is expected to be the only outcome of the seventh and final day of negotiations in Geneva.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says he hopes for more substantial talks at the next round, noting this is "only the beginning of the process."

The two sides have bickered over even what topics are up for discussion at the long-awaited talks.

The government wants to start by addressing terrorism. On Thursday, it presented a resolution calling for an end to the funding of "terrorist acts."

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

In response, the Damascus delegation suggested opposition delegates rejected the terrorism communique 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 have 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 really 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 well over 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, 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."

A Reuters report this week suggested Syria has given up less than five percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss its deadline next week to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction.

It also said the internationally backed operation to remove the weapons is six to eight weeks behind schedule.

Under an internationally brokered deal announced earlier in 2013, Damascus was to have shipped its most lethal chemicals -- including about 20 tons of mustard nerve agent -- out of the Mediterranean port of Latakia by December 31.

The toxins are slated for destruction at sea, with a mid-2014 deadline looming for the removal of the entire Syrian chemical arsenal.

Before the deal emerged, the U.S. had threatened to carry out limited air strikes on targets belonging to the Syrian government, which Washington blamed for a deadly chemical attack.

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