The United Nation’s envoy to Syria has ended the latest round of peace talks, saying there have been no major breakthroughs but that “incremental progress” was made.
“We have made, as we were expecting and hoping, incremental progress. No breakthrough, no breakdown, no one walking out,” United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.
He said he planned to convene an eighth round of indirect peace talks in early September between President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition leaders and said he has asked Assad’s envoys “to be ready to address the political process’’ in the next session.
De Mistura said that by the next round of talks he hopes the international community will be able to push all sides to “finally sit in the same room and start talking about substance.” So far, the sides have been meeting separately with de Mistura.
When asked if he has seen any sign that the government of Assad has given any ground on a possible political transition, he said, “no, I don’t have any indication.”
He noted, however, that there was an increase in “mutual trust” between different Syrian opposition groups. De Mistura wants to merge the three opposition groups participating in the talks before holding direct talks between the government and a unified opposition delegation.
De Mistura also said he warmly welcomes a call by French President Emmanuel Macron for the creation of a “contact group’’ made up of U.N. Security Council members and regional powers that would support a political road map for Syria.
“I don’t see any problem in having any maximum help in making sure that we get into serious negotiation,” he said.
Assad’s government and the opposition repeated long-held positions before leaving Geneva on Friday.
Assad’s delegation, led by Syria’s U.N. ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, said his side focused on counterterrorism issues.
The chief delegate for the main opposition High Negotiations Committee, Nasr al-Hariri, told reporters that the talks need to focus on the future of Assad, and he accused the government delegation of stalling the process.
“Let’s speak frankly, the Syrian regime, until this moment, is refusing any engagements and discussion or negotiation,” he said.
Assad’s delegation has declared the president’s fate off-limits, while the opposition wants the matter to be part of the negotiations.
The Syrian peace talks, meditated by the United Nations, began two years ago and have focused on finding a political solution to the six-year civil war.
This past round of talks opened with increased optimism as a cease-fire was recently put in place in southwest Syria, worked out by the United States, Russia, and Jordan.
Only sporadic violence has occurred since the truce went into force this past Sunday.
The United Nations reports the Syrian war, which has entered its seventh year, has killed about 400,000 people, displaced more than 6 million within the country and prompted nearly 5 million to flee as refugees to neighboring countries.