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Middle East

Syria foes start third day of talks

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, 2nd right, makes a phone call after a meeting with the UN Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, the second round of negotiation between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday , Feb. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

GENEVA: A new round of talks between Syria's warring sides dragged into a third day Wednesday amid signs that Russia aimed to play a greater role in trying to break the deadlock.

Representatives of President Bashar Assad's regime and the opposition National Coalition were holding face-to-face negotiations in Geneva, as they did Tuesday, according to the UN.

UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi admitted after Tuesday's session that "we are not making much progress".

After attempting to discuss the issue of how to halt the violence Tuesday, he aimed to focus Wednesday's talks on the thorny topic of a transitional governing body, but there was no sign the regime would agree to address the issue.

It has repeatedly said President Bashar Assad's role is not up for discussion, while the opposition insists a transitional government must exclude him.

The regime's focus so far has been to make the talks about halting "terrorism" -- its word for the rebellion seeking Assad's ouster.

The stubborn impasse prompted Brahimi to say after Tuesday's three-hour session that the process was proving as "laborious" as in the first round last month.

In a bid to push things along before the sides met, Brahimi early Wednesday met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who was later expected to speak with the regime delegation chief, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Gatilov told Russian media upon his arrival in Switzerland that Moscow was preparing a UN Security Council resolution condemning "terrorism" in Syria.

That came after ambassadors of the 15 UN Security Council members on Tuesday held informal talks in New York on a draft humanitarian resolution, adamantly opposed by Moscow, demanding the end of sieges in places such as Homs, where an evacuation of civilians resumed Wednesday.

A scheduled meeting in Geneva between Brahimi, Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had meanwhile been advanced by a day to Thursday afternoon, the UN said.

The current round of talks, which kicked off with separate meetings Monday and is set to last until Friday, has seen the Syrian foes continue to trade blame over who is responsible for the violence wracking their country for nearly three years.

- Russia stepping up - The so-called Geneva II negotiations were initiated by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria. They pushed for eight months to get the parties to the negotiating table.

Since the talks first began last month, marking the biggest international push so far to end the nearly three-year civil war, Washington and especially Moscow have remained on the sidelines, allowing the UN and Brahimi to run the show.

But no progress was made during the first round to end the conflict that has already claimed more than 136,000 lives.

With the talks at an apparent standstill, Russia has proposed a collective meeting with the UN, Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes to try to break the deadlock.

It remained unclear if the Syrian parties might be invited to Thursday's meeting between Brahimi, Gatilov and Sherman.

Washington and the Syrian opposition have said they would support such a move if it could help move things forward, while the regime delegation has voiced scepticism.

 

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Summary

A new round of talks between Syria's warring sides dragged into a third day Wednesday amid signs that Russia aimed to play a greater role in trying to break the deadlock.

The current round of talks, which kicked off with separate meetings Monday and is set to last until Friday, has seen the Syrian foes continue to trade blame over who is responsible for the violence wracking their country for nearly three years.

With the talks at an apparent standstill, Russia has proposed a collective meeting with the UN, Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes to try to break the deadlock.

It remained unclear if the Syrian parties might be invited to Thursday's meeting between Brahimi, Gatilov and Sherman.


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