Syrian rivals tackle governance, terrorism at UN talks

UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a news conference after meetings during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva.

Syrian rivals will tackle all agenda items at peace talks this week, including political transition, the United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura said on Friday, warning not to expect “miracles.”

The fifth round of stalled UN-backed negotiations have started in Geneva, with a mandate to discuss governance, drafting a new constitution, elections and combating terrorism in the war-ravaged country.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s delegation has sought to keep terrorism as the focus, accusing the main opposition High Negotiations Committee of partnering with extremists.

For the HNC, the issue of governance and especially Assad’s removal is the top priority.

“All of them have to talk about all four (issues)”, de Mistura told reporters after meeting the government and HNC. “That is (the) deal”, he added, following the first full day of the round.

Speaking earlier, the regime’s lead negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said his camp had begun talks on the terrorism issue, given “developments on the ground.”

Rebels and allied groups this week launched two surprise offensives on government positions in Damascus and central Hama province.

The HNC delegation chief Nasr al-Hariri told reporters the opposition had focused on political transition first.

The sides are meeting separately with the UN.

De Mistura said he would aim to mesh the ideas shared on all subjects by both sides when the round ends next Friday.

“I am not expecting miracles, I am not expecting breakthroughs … and I am not expecting breakdowns,” the UN envoy said, reiterating that agreement on the agenda was itself a mark of progress.

The fact that talks were going ahead despite an escalation of violence was also a “sign of maturity” among the rival camps, he said.

De Mistura added that he will fly to Jordan’s capital for one day on Monday to brief an Arab League meeting on the negotiations, with his deputy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy leading the round for a day.

Call for direct negotiations

After the preliminary talks that took place Thursday, the Geneva talks on Syria are expected to begin on Friday with substantive talks between the participating delegations.

In this context, the spokesman of the Supreme Commission for Negotiations Salem al Mosalat expressed the desire of the delegation of Syrian opposition to engage in direct negotiations leading to a political solution to the crisis in Syria. He revealed receiving pledges by De Mistura that the current round will directly address the political transition process, calling on him to fulfill those commitments.

Ramzi Ezzidine Ramzi, assistant UN envoy to Syria, said on Thursday that the discussions were objective. “We talked about all the issues that need clarification before we officially start, and in that sense I think it was a positive meeting, so let’s see what happens,” he said.

Al Arabiya’s correspondent in Geneva said on Thursday that the official opening of the Geneva talks on Syria would be on Friday instead of Thursday as planned, due to the presence of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura in Ankara.

She added that all delegations arrived in Geneva, and that De Mistura’s assistant will meet with the delegation of the High Commission for Negotiations on Thursday afternoon, while she pointed out that Jihad Makdisi, one of the representatives of the so-called the Cairo platform, is the most prominent absentee from this round.

Mistura call for more talks

Russia, Iran and Turkey need to convene more Syrian ceasefire talks as soon as possible to bring the “worrisome” situation on the ground under control, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Friday, reports Reuters.

De Mistura is mediating of a round of political talks in Geneva, which he expects to produce incremental progress but no breakthroughs or miracles, but separate talks in the Kazakh capital Astana – arranged by Russia, Iran and Turkey – are supposed to guarantee the ceasefire.

De Mistura said he had made a strong suggestion “that they do retake the situation in hand and hopefully there will be an Astana meeting as soon as possible in order to control the situation which at the moment is worrisome”.

Four previous rounds have yielded little with the government emboldened following major military victories in recent months helped partly by strong support from its ally Russia.

Years of diplomatic efforts have failed to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions since it started in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s regime.

The HNC delegation chief Nasr al-Hariri told reporters the opposition had focused on political transition first.


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