News / Middle East

    Tense, but 'Promising,' Moments in Syria Talks

    Louay Safi, spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, speaks to the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, January 30, 2014.
    Louay Safi, spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, speaks to the media after a meeting at the Geneva Conference on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, January 30, 2014.
    Lisa Schlein
    The top mediator for the Syria talks in Geneva, Lakhdar Brahimi, said there were "tense" but "promising moments" during Thursday's negotiations between the Assad government and opposition representatives.

    In his daily press briefing, Brahimi also said the warring sides had not yet made a deal to allow aid into the beseiged rebel-held city of Homs.

    The initial round of talks is expected to end on Friday with an agreement to resume the talks again about a week later.  Brahimi has said he does not expect to achieve "anything substantive" by the end of this round, expressing hope that the next round will be more productive.

    The Geneva II Talks

    • Delegates gather in Montreux, Switzerland on Jan. 22
    • Talks move to Geneva on Jan. 24 and will be facilitated by Lakhdar Brahimi
    • Syrian government delegation is led by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
    • Opposition delegation is led by Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmad al-Jarba
    The two sides agreed this week to use the "Geneva communique" as the basis of discussions but differed on how the talks to end nearly three years of fighting should proceed.

    The document spells out agreements reached at a June 2012 international conference in Geneva, including the creation of a transitional government agreed to by both the government and opposition.

    Rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insist he must leave power, while the Syrian government has said Assad's role is not up for debate at the peace conference.

    The opposition wants talks to focus first on a transitional authority while the government wants to address it near the end of talks, demanding that putting an end to "terrorism" is its first priority.

    Brahimi said that during Syrian peace talks on Thursday the government and opposition delegates broached the subjects of security and terrorism

    Although there was no meeting of minds, he said it was an important discussion to have. He added that there is universal agreement that terrorism does exist and is a very serious problem inside Syria. 
     
    Nevertheless, he said everyone realizes it is indispensable to seriously tackle this issue in order to resolve the crisis and restore peace and security in Syria. 

    Deep divides remain

    Still, Brahimi said the government and opposition remain deeply divided on political issues but indicates they seem to have found some common ground on a humane level.
     
    “We had tense moments and also rather promising moments," he said. "The opposition suggested a minute of silence for all the dead in Syria irrelevant of to which camp they belong and the government delegation immediately agreed and we had that minute of silence.” 
     
    Brahimi said discussions between the United Nations and Syrian government to send needed food and medical supplies into Homs remain deadlocked.  He said he is disappointed by the lack of progress.
     
    “Of course, one is extremely sad that these problems exist," he said. "The negotiations are still going on—ongoing.  Now, the thing is what goes first?  Do you get the supplies, you know, aid in and then allow people to come out or get people out first and then see what you do about aid getting in?.” 
     
    Homs is not the only place cut off from aid.

    The United Nations reports humanitarian agencies are unable to reach about 250,000 people in seven areas in the country. The U.N, on Thursday managed to deliver food parcels to thousands of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the capital Damascus. 
     
    This besieged rebel-stronghold has been without assistance for many months.  Brahimi called the delivery of food in Yarmouk a partial solution. 

    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.

    Chemical weapons issue

    Also Thursday, the White House said Syria must intensify its efforts to transport chemical weapons to the port of Latakia, after a news report showed work to deliver and destroy the weapons had fallen behind schedule.
     
    White House spokesman Jay Carney says "it is the Assad regime's responsibility to transport those chemicals" safely.

    Reuters news agency cited sources on Wednesday saying 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.

    The sources also told Reuters the internationally backed operation to remove the weapons is six to eight weeks behind schedule.

    VOA's Carla Babb contributed to this report from Washington

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