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New Effort to Find Peace in Syria Gets Under Way


FILE - United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to media during a news conference in Geneva, Jan. 15, 2015.

The United Nations is making a renewed effort to find a political solution to Syria’s four-year old civil war as casualties continue to mount. Syria’s warring parties have begun informal consultations with the U.N. Special Envoy on Syria in hopes of restarting stalled peace talks.

Successive efforts to reach a peace accord have all ended in failure. So, U.N. Special Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura is being cautious and deliberately dampening expectations about the outcome of these talks.

He prefers to characterize them as serious consultations. During the next five or six weeks, he says he and his deputy will engage in one-to-one structured discussions with as many actors involved in the Syrian conflict as possible.

De Mistura says the goal is to gauge whether another round of formal peace negotiations will be feasible in the near future.

“The Geneva consultations are ... not a one-off meeting and they are not a conference. This is not Geneva III,” said De Mistura. "There is no beginning, no middle and end here, no big round table with multilateral representation. No big communiqué expected at the end and these are not yet peace talks.”

De Mistura says he hopes to know by June 30 whether it will be possible to convene Geneva III and restart peace negotiations.

The date was chosen because it marks the third anniversary of the so-called Geneva communiqué that was agreed to by the Geneva I Conference on Syria. A key element of that accord is the establishment of a transitional government body with full executive powers that could include members of the government and opposition.

Participants include more than 40 Syrian groups in addition to the government of Syria and about 20 regional and international representatives. Noticeably absent are members of the militant groups Islamic State and Nusra Front. They have not been invited because they are deemed terrorist organizations.

De Mistura says there is never a good time to start talks, but it is his duty to try and not give up.

“What has probably changed is the perception that the whole world has had, in June, by the way, when we suddenly again all of us woke up to the fact that the fifth year of this conflict was starting, when in fact 220,000 people have died ... and when in fact the conflict was getting more aggressive and brutal on the ground,” said De Mistura.

De Mistura says he believes this awakening has produced an inescapable realization that something must be done to end this tragic situation and waiting any longer is no longer an option.