Slim progress made as Syria peace talks close in Switzerland

10:18 AM, Feb 15, 2014   |    comments
Syria's representative at the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari gestures during a press conference on the Syrian peace talks in front of the "Palais des Nations" in Geneva. A second round of peace talks between Syria's warring sides broke off Saturday without making any progress and without a date being set for a third round, the UN mediator said.
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(CNN) -- U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Saturday that a second round of talks in Geneva aimed at ending the crisis in Syria came to an end with little progress made.

The opposition and the government have agreed to an agenda for a third round of talks, but they have not agreed on how to tackle it, he said.

Brahimi apologized to the Syrian people, saying he was "very, very sorry" that despite two rounds of talks "we haven't done very much."

The key sticking point is that the Syrian government wants to talk about tackling terrorism, while the opposition wants to discuss forming a transitional governing body.

Brahimi said he suggested starting the next round of talks with one day of discussion on each issue, but the government had thrown a wrench in the works.

"Unfortunately the government has refused, which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn't want to discuss the (transitional governing body) at all," he said.

Brahimi said such intransigence was "not good for the process," or for Syria.

Negotiators from both sides should go back to their leaders and reflect on a way forward, he said. "Do they want this process to take place or not?"

Louay Safi, of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said, "We want to progress on the two sides. We want to be assured that the regime is really wanting a political solution, not delay tactics, and we didn't get that, for reasons that were described by Mr. Brahimi.

"Our heart is in pain, our delegation is in pain, that as we speak here searching for a political solution the regime has chosen to bombard towns and cities killing civilians."

The snail-paced peace talks, which started last month with Brahimi serving as an intermediary between the two delegations sitting in the same room, have failed to produce an agreement on a first step for resolving a conflict that has dragged on for nearly three years.

It has killed well over 100,000 people and caused millions to flee their homes.

Relief for besieged city

Brahimi said his next step would be to consult with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There is also a need for trilateral talks between Ban, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov, he said.

Brahimi said he would also likely brief the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, known as the P5 -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- and the full Security Council.

So far, the only hint of progress resulting from the talks has been a localized ceasefire to allow some evacuations and aid relief for the besieged city of Homs.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Friday that 1,400 people were evacuated from the Old City of Homs and 2,500 still there got relief supplies, but she lamented the bleak humanitarian situation throughout Syria.

Brahimi said "the little that has been achieved in Homs" had given the Syrian people hope that they might finally be "coming out of this horrible crisis they are in."

But the warring sides are still far apart.

Opposition: We want progress, not delaying tactics

Brahimi said he hoped that after reflecting the two sides would come back "ready to engage seriously" with how to implement the so-called Geneva communique that led to the talks. It calls for ending the conflict and establishing a transitional government.

The opposition has proposed a transitional government that would oversee a halt in the fighting, releasing prisoners of conscience, maintaining law and order, bringing justice to those responsible for violence and protecting human rights.

Its plan excludes President Bashar al-Assad from continued leadership, an outcome unacceptable to the longtime Syrian leader.

But Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad said Friday that the opposition has "an unrealistic agenda," and he insisted the first step must be "stopping the violence and ending terrorism."

The government refers to the rebels as foreign-backed terrorists, so Makdad's stance in essence calls for the opposition to unilaterally lay down its arms.

"We confirm we are willing to discuss the issue of the transitional government after we reach an agreement regarding ending terrorism," he said.

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