BEIRUT

Middle East

Geneva round stumbles to an end

  • A boy holds his baby sister saved from under rubble, who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Masaken Hanano in Aleppo February 14, 2014. (REUTERS/Hosam Katan)

GENEVA: Syrian government and opposition delegates said Friday that talks to end their country’s war had reached an impasse, with the U.S. and Russia backing the rival camps and trading accusations over the deadlock.

However, both sides kept the door open for more negotiations, saying the talks may continue for another day.

“Unfortunately we have reached a dead end,” opposition spokesman Louay Safi said following separate meetings between U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi with opposition and government delegations.

“I hope we can still find an opening in that wall,” he added, saying that for now government “belligerence” was making it impossible to forge ahead.

He urged all parties, particularly the Russians, to exert pressure on the government of President Bashar Assad in order to break the deadlock.

There has been no response to the proposal his side submitted Wednesday for ending the war, Safi said, but added that the two sides might meet again Saturday for a final session before breaking up.

For his part, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said he regretted that no progress was achieved.

“We came to Geneva conference to implement Syria’s declared position to reach a political solution. Unfortunately, the other side came with another agenda, with an unrealistic agenda.”

Mekdad also sharply criticized the U.N. aid chief, Valerie Amos, who on Thursday urged the U.N. Security Council to act to improve access for humanitarian relief.

“While we have done our best and will continue to do our best, I think some of her statements were absolutely unacceptable,” Mekdad said.

“Mrs. Amos, in many of her statements does not recognize that there is terrorism in Syria and there are terrorist organizations, which are hindering the movement of goods and humanitarian assistance to many parts of Syria in addition to ignoring very important places where the assistance should go.”

Earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of focusing exclusively on “regime change,” while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Moscow was backtracking on earlier commitments.

“The only thing they want to talk about is the establishment of a transitional governing body,” Lavrov said. “Only after that are they ready to discuss the urgent and most pressing problems, like terrorism,” he added, speaking in Moscow.

From Beijing, Kerry said agreeing on a transition government was the sole purpose of the Geneva talks, and that Lavrov had been present previously when Kerry said that was the goal.

“Any efforts to try to be revisionist, or walk back, or step away from that, frankly, is not keeping faith with the words that have been spoken and the intent of this conference,” Kerry said.

Kerry also said President Barack Obama had again asked for policy options on Syria but that none had yet been presented to him.

Kerry told reporters Obama was concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Syria and also by the Geneva talks’ failure to discuss a transitional government.

As a result, Kerry said, “he has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist.”

In a sign of the growing dissatisfaction over Geneva, Asaad Mustafa, the defense minister in Ahmad Tohme’s provisional government, announced his resignation.

Mustafa said the Geneva process was going nowhere as the violence and killing continued unabated, with the international community unwilling to step in and halt the killing, while preventing the rebels from acquiring “legitimate means of self-defense.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 15, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

Syrian government and opposition delegates said Friday that talks to end their country's war had reached an impasse, with the U.S. and Russia backing the rival camps and trading accusations over the deadlock.

Earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of focusing exclusively on "regime change," while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Moscow was backtracking on earlier commitments.

From Beijing, Kerry said agreeing on a transition government was the sole purpose of the Geneva talks, and that Lavrov had been present previously when Kerry said that was the goal.

Kerry told reporters Obama was concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Syria and also by the Geneva talks' failure to discuss a transitional government.


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