News / Middle East

Even Talking is Hard for Syrian Negotiators

Even Talking is Hard for Syrian Negotiatorsi
X
January 31, 2014 5:14 PM
Syrian government and opposition negotiators have been met in Geneva this week during a first round of talks, but they were fraught with difficulties, not only on substance but on what to talk about and even how to talk about it. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Geneva.
Al Pessin
Syrian government and opposition negotiators met in Geneva this week for a first round of talks, but they were fraught with difficulties, not only on substance but on what to talk about and even how to talk about it.

The delegations from the government and opposition issue sharp criticisms of each other as they arrive for each meeting at the United Nations' Geneva headquarters.  And that is the only time they are seen.  They have not allowed any photos to be taken as they sit across from each other inside the conference room.

The mediator, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, is the man in the middle.

“One delegation is on the right and the other on the left and they face one another and they talk to one another," he said. "No, they talk through me to one another.”

And that is the closest they come to negotiating.  About half the time, they are in different rooms, meeting separately with the mediator, a situation that generates media reports of problems and breakdowns in the talks.

But it is often more productive to meet with hostile parties separately, according to former U.S. diplomat Daniel Serwer of the Middle East Institute, who helped negotiate the end of the Bosnian War 20 years ago.

“It’s only when they’re in separate rooms that you can hope to get a little bit more from them -- why they want something, whether they can give something," he said. "All of that is done out of the hearing of the other.”

And there is another aspect of these talks, which was on display during the preliminary meeting the previous week. The main backers of the Syrian government and opposition - Russia and the United States - officially called on the U.N. to host these talks. A week later, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad indicated their delegations are never far away.

“The two initiators are also in different rooms sitting beside. I think our Russian friends are playing a positive role," he said. "I don't know what Robert Ford is doing on the other side, but you see he failed to bring even a credible delegation to the discussion.”

Robert Ford is the U.S. ambassador to Syria, and he heads the American delegation at the Geneva talks. His boss, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, made clear last week that the tense negotiating room in Geneva is not the only venue for Syria peace efforts.

“What you see in the direct talks between the opposition and the Assad regime will not be the full measure of effort being expended in order to try to find a solution here,” he said.

And that could be particularly important because these talks, whether together or separately, are moving at best in what the mediator calls “half steps.”

You May Like

Obama Pledges 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace Christmas precisely because of its non-religious glamor and commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid