News / Middle East

    UN Envoy, Syrian Opposition Say Discussions 'Positive'

    U.N. mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura delivers a statement after the opening of the Syrian peace talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 29, 2016.
    U.N. mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura delivers a statement after the opening of the Syrian peace talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 29, 2016.
    Luis Ramirez

    After boycotting the start of indirect peace talks, representatives of the main Syrian opposition group met Sunday with the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva, with both sides saying there had been progress in resolving some of the issues that had the opposition threatening to leave.

    De Mistura told reporters he is “optimistic and determined” that the opposition will join the peace process that got underway Friday, five days behind schedule and with opposition representatives boycotting the first day.

    A spokesman for the Syrian opposition said the discussions on Sunday were “encouraging and positive” concerning humanitarian issues, referring to the group’s demands for an end to airstrikes on civilians and the lifting of sieges that are preventing humanitarian aid from reaching rebel-held areas.   

    Earlier in the day, the group said it was in Geneva to meet with U.N. officials and not to enter into negotiations, even indirect ones, with the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Late Sunday, the opposition spokesman said his delegation will have another meeting with U.N. officials Monday.

    The so-called proximity talks are meant to lay the groundwork for eventual direct negotiations.

    With no face-to-face encounters scheduled between Assad government officials and opposition representatives in this round, the plan is for the U.N. envoy to consult with each side separately and shuttle between the two to relay proposals and positions.

    US urges push

    In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Syrian government and the opposition to push for an end to the nearly 5-year-old conflict that has killed a quarter of a million people and displaced millions. He described the war in Syria as “an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe unmatched since World War II.”

    WATCH: US Secretary of State John Kerry's statement

    US Secretary of State John Kerry's Statement on Syria Talksi
    January 31, 2016 4:24 PM
    US Secretary of State John Kerry's statement on Syria talks

    "I appeal to both sides to make the most of this moment, to seize the opportunity for serious negotiations, to negotiate in good faith with the goal of making concrete measurable progress in the days immediately ahead,'' Kerry said.  

    Representatives of the opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, arrived in Geneva Saturday, saying they would engage only in talks with U.N. officials, but not negotiations.

    The Saudi-backed group has been meeting in Riyadh and demanded a halt to airstrikes by Syrian government and Russian forces on civilians, and the lifting of sieges on rebel-held areas, before it would enter into negotiations.

    Salim al-Muslat, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main Syrian opposition group at the Geneva peace talks, attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 31, 2016.
    Salim al-Muslat, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main Syrian opposition group at the Geneva peace talks, attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 31, 2016.

    Delegates decided to travel to Switzerland only after receiving assurances their demands would be heard. "We only came to Geneva after written commitments on the fact that there would be serious progress on humanitarian issues," HNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani told reporters.

    'Historic occasion'

    After Friday’s shaky start, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura was determined to make this round succeed.

    “It is an historic occasion not to be missed,” he said, as he left a Geneva hotel after meeting with the opposition. U.N. officials described the meeting as informal and hoped the HNC officials would agree to a formal meeting later Sunday. 

    The Islamic State extremist group was not invited to the Geneva peace talks because it, along with the al-Nusra Front, is designated by the United Nations as a terrorist organization.

    Limited talks

    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad considers all rebel groups that want to depose Assad terrorists, but agreed to proximity talks with some opposition groups the international community recognizes as moderate. 

    On Sunday, a senior Syrian government official said Assad would never accept the inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and the Army of Islam groups. 

    The statement presents a possible snag for the talks because many in the moderate opposition believe both groups should eventually be included, while the Syrian government and its Russian backers see them as extremists with whom Damascus should not negotiate. 

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    Comment Sorting
    by: One of the true Syrian from: Syria
    February 01, 2016 3:23 AM
    Dear Readers of the comments please consider that the regime of Syria have full sources to employee commenters like the above
    please consider that our revolution starts with aim that the good people on earth will help them special UN but as you see
    the killing and bombing and no one say any thing and now we forced to discuss the regime for our salvation
    what sad and bad world we live !!!!!

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    January 31, 2016 8:52 PM
    This is Drama in front of world. No Power on earth can solve Syria problems as long as Saudi Arabia is backing Terrorist Organisation Daesh or IS.
    This is very sad affairs in Syria. So many countries against one country and they are damaging every day basic structure. More then 350,000/= peoples have been killed and same numbers become homeless due to stupid saudi govt.
    There is no freedom in Saudi Arabia. No Church, Girls cannot drive car and they cannot visit grave yard for their father/mother/husband/sisters. First of all Aley Saud Must hold election so they can judge their papoularity in front of world. But they coward to hold election.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 31, 2016 6:01 PM
    [No matter what Kerry tries to make people believe], the US and the Sunni Muslim terrorist groups only want a Russian and Syrian army ceasefire (to stop the Russian backed Syrian army blitzkrieg) so they can rearm, resupply, reequip and reposition the pro-US and other terrorist groups that are waging war on the Shia Muslim led government of Assad and Syria, (and the US and the Sunni Muslim terrorist groups don't care how many millions of innocent Syrian civilians will have to suffer and die) if they can only remove Assad and the Shia Muslim led government from power?

    Think about it? .. Never in the history of the 5 year Syrian war has the US and NATO and their terrorist allies ever requested a ceasefire for any reason, especially when they were making huge advances against the Syrian army, [but now], after the Russian backed Syrian army blitzkrieg advance against their terrorist allies, the US and NATO and their terrorist allies now want a Russian and Syrian army ceasefire? .. NOW? .. Is it for humane reasons, that the US, NATO and the terrorists demand, or is it for reaming, resupplying, and repositioning the anti-Assad terrorist groups? .. Why can't Kerry be honest?

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 31, 2016 2:27 PM
    I don't know how moderate the so called moderate opposition is but it's clear they didn't start out as members of al Qaeda, al Nusra, IS or any other terrorist group. There may still be a sizeable number who want a democratic secular state. But there are also among them those who want a Sunni run theocracy. One thing they all agree on is that Assad must go. But Assad and his supporters in Russia and Iran say he must stay. There is a lot of the usual hyperbole around these talks that are likely to go nowhere. Too much has happened since the insurrection began for any kind of amicable settlement. In the end, I think Assad will be overthrown by either leaving or being assassinated by the rebels and there will be a bloodbath of Sunnis killing everyone else and each other. I don't see any plausible scenario where this story has a happy ending. I don't see given how the overwhelming majority of Syrians are Sunni and they get so much support from outside how they can lose. I think they will fight no matter how long it takes them to win. Whether IS and al Nusra are destroyed is an entirely different matter. That should be of greatest concern to Russia, Iraq, Iran, Europe, and all of Syria's Arab neighbors. The US has an interest as well but it is not nearly at such great risk as the others.

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